People opposed to a proposal to drop serpentine as California’s official state rock are making their voices heard. But the asbestos awareness group that helped craft the legislation says the debate is actually helping to fuel their cause.
Linda Reinstein is co-founder of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), the largest independent organization dedicated to preventing asbestos-related diseases through education and legislation. The group worked with California legislators to draft Senate Bill 624 which would strip serpentine – the host rock for the toxic mineral asbestos – of the title it has held since 1965.
“This is a symbolic move meant to show support for patients and for families who have lost loved one to asbestos-related diseases,” says Reinstein. “California has long been a leader on environmental issues and health issues. This should have been a very simple mechanism for making an important national statement.”
Instead, the debate, dubbed the ‘Drop the Rock’ campaign, is being opposed by those who say serpentine deserves its title because of its place in California’s geological history, despite the presence of asbestos in the rock. Some opponents even worry the move could have an impact on asbestos-related litigation, a concern Reinstein says is unfounded. Although she is surprised by the unexpected controversy over the bill, Reinstein says the ADAO welcomes the extra attention that the debate is giving to the ongoing problem of asbestos exposure and preventable asbestos-related illnesses.
“As an organization devoted to education, advocacy and public awareness, we are glad for any opportunity to bring this issue into the limelight,” she says.
The World Health Organization (WHO), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Surgeon General, and a host of other public health organizations and experts have classified asbestos as a dangerous human carcinogen for which there is no safe level of exposure. Asbestos has been linked to asbestosis and a variety of cancers, including the rare and aggressive form of cancer called mesothelioma which kills an estimated 3,000 Americans every year.
“This isn’t about geology. It’s about public health,” says Reinstein, who worries that a defeat for the legislation could send the false message that asbestos is safe.
Although asbestos has been banned in the European Union, its use is still legal in the U.S. in products, including vehicle brake systems and gaskets. The vast majority of victims of asbestos-related diseases were exposed to the mineral during the course of their work. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established strict protection guidelines for employees who work around asbestos.
Manhattan Beach City Council unanimously passed RESOLUTION NO. 6223 and the California State Senate and the State Assembly Committee on Natural Resources unanimously passed SB 624. It is still being debated in the halls of the state capitol.
“Linda Reinstein, CEO and Co-Founder of Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO), Issues Statement on ‘Drop the Rock, SB 624”, ADAO Website, accessed July 27, 2010.
Telephone Interview with Linda Reinstein, July 27, 2010.
Morris, Jim, “Exporting an Epidemic: Human Toll Reaches Millions as Asbestos Industry Expands Worldwide”, July 20, 2010. The Center for Public Integrity.