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What Is the State Rock of California?

By R. Stamm
Updated Jan 27, 2024
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The state rock of California is the serpentine, and it was officially designated in 1965. California was the first of the 50 states to choose a state rock. The serpentine is a dark-colored rock with industrial uses as well as decorative uses that can take on the appearance of jade when dyed. The rock was chosen because it contains the state’s principal deposits of chromite, magnesite, and cinnabar, along with the economic benefits the rock brought to California. Debates within the state of California about the choice of rock began around 2010 due to claims that the asbestos contained within the rock is responsible for causing certain types of cancer.

The greenish-gray to bluish-black rock has a shiny appearance that is waxy to the touch. The rock has a pattern or stripes mimicking the skin of a snake, which is how the rock received its name. The serpentine is often used to create exquisite pieces of jewelry or as ornamental decorations in pottery and works of art. The serpentine rock is also used for industrial purposes such as building materials, railway ballasts, and for electrical insulation. Industrial uses for the state rock of California have fallen due the cancer-causing agents found within the rock.

The serpentine is an ultramafic rock composed of magnesium, silicate, and iron oxide minerals. The state rock of California was formed deep within the Earth’s crust when rocks and water were exposed to low temperatures combined with high pressure. In addition to chromite, magnesite, and cinnabar, these rocks contain asbestos or asbestos-like fibers. Asbestos fibers are known to be cancer-causing agents, and the American government cannot say if there are safe levels of exposure to the fiber.

A heated debate surrounding the serpentine rock began in 2010 concerning the choice of the state rock and health concerns. Due to the asbestos contained within the rock, some lawmakers and health officials called for it to be denounced as the state rock of California. These lawmakers and health officials claim that there is significant evidence linking the asbestos found within the rock to several cases of cancer found throughout the state. Geologists argue that the levels and type of asbestos fibers found within the rock are harmless. These geologists also state that casual exposure does not cause cancer, and cancer is only found in cases where the patient repeatedly breathes dust particles from smashing the rock.

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