State angry about county’s asbestos ruling |

State angry about county’s asbestos ruling

Rick Chandler

The California Air Resources Board on Monday sent a blistering letter to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, scolding the county for failing to adopt tougher guidelines on road base asbestos materials.

In the letter, CARB Executive Officer Michael Kenny denounced the board’s recent asbestos decision, indicating that the state may now step in to possibly ban asbestos throughout the state.

“It’s a very bold move by ARB, but if they have the science to back them, they could do it,” said El Dorado County Environmental Management Director Jon Morgan. “They’d have to take it through the regulatory process, which ultimately would be difficult. But it’s possible.”

The letter is clear evidence that CARB is miffed at the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors, who rebuffed their recommendations in September.

“What this means is that we will likely explore avenues to tighten the asbestos rules,” said CARB spokesman Jerry Martin. “We won’t ban it, probably. But we may move to cut allowable levels, or institute more stringent test methods, or require quarries to test more often. Or it could be a combination of all of those.”

The board on Sept. 28 voted not to adopt an ordinance which would modify the maximum asbestos limits for serpentine rock surfacing materials from 5 percent per test sample to 1 percent. This came as good news to the three rock quarry operations in the county, which would have been in danger of shutting down had the new ordinance passed muster.

But some county residents are still unhappy with the board’s 3-2 ruling, claiming that the asbestos – which has been classified as a cancer-causing carcinogen by CARB, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Toxic Substances Control – is a public health hazard, linked to mesothelioma, an inoperable cancer of the membranes lining the lungs and chest.

“Clearly El Dorado County had the ability to better protect their citizens than they did,” Martin said. “El Dorado County is in the forefront on this issue.”

The agenda item failed 3-2, with Dave Solaro (Fifth District), Ray Nutting (Second District) and Mark Nielsen (Third District) voting in the majority.

“I do believe that the state is the proper lead agency to set the standards here,” Solaro said. “I made a motion at that (Sept. 28) meeting to increase the regulations already in place concerning grading and mining. I applaud the state for the direction in which they are moving. But it is a state issue. Why should there be 58 different decisions?”

First District Supervisor Sam Bradley, who voted for the 1 percent reduction, does not agree.

“Our job is to protect public health and safety,” Bradley said. “That is our main tenet as supervisors. We didn’t slough off the MTBE issue, did we? We jumped all over that, even though the science is not conclusive. But we know that asbestos causes cancer.

“This was just a skirmish,” Bradley said. “This is an issue that will not go away. If the state cannot move to ban asbestos, then the people will do it.”

In 1989, the El Dorado County Department of Risk Management determined that the use of asbestos-laden serpentine rock was indeed a health hazard, and recommended that the Department of Transportation adopt a 1-percent asbestos level policy for all of its workers. The DOT adopted that recommendation.

“So we have established a policy for our workers, but not for our citizens,” said Melissa Vargas, a Garden Valley resident and director of Citizens For the Protection of Health, Environment and Quality of Life in El Dorado County. “This is unbelievable. Hopefully, the state will step in and intercede.”

This would come as bad news to county quarry operations such as Sierra Rock of Placerville, which mines serpentine rock for use on roadways and in landscaping.

“If the standard was set at 1 percent, we would go out of business,” said Sierra Rock manager Eric Brunius. “It’s not even an issue. What people don’t understand is that the type of asbestos found in serpentine rock in North America is not a health hazard. I was born and raised working around the stuff. There’s an employee here who has been around it every day for 20 years.”

But Bradley maintains that the county mining industry is a network of good ol’ boys who are simply looking out for their own business interests. And as recent veterans of the MTBE wars, residents of the Lake Tahoe Basin should relate.

“Here’s the question I have for the people in Tahoe,” Bradley said. “Would you rather have 5 percent MTBE in your water, or 1 percent? Or zero percent? With asbestos, it’s the same thing. Only this stuff will kill you.”


Letter from California Air Resources Board, directed to the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

Oct. 1, 1999

Honorable J. Mark Nielsen

El Dorado County Board of Supervisors – District III

330 Fair Lane

Placerville, California 95667

Dear Supervisor Nielsen:

I am writing to express my disappointment in your Board’s Sept. 28, 1999 failure to adopt appropriate measures to minimize public exposure to asbestos in El Dorado County. Over the past 18 months, we have assisted the county in the form of air monitoring, public outreach, and coordination with other local, state and federal agencies to determine if further measures to protect public health from asbestos were warranted. The results of this effort led us to the conclusion that additional public health protection was warranted and available through reasonable measures that we, and several other agencies urged your Board to adopt.

Because the county is not moving to implement needed health protections, I have directed ARB staff to immediately initiate the expeditious development of an expanded statewide Airborne Toxic Control Measure (ATCM) for asbestos. Staff will conduct an initial public consultation meeting on this matter within 60 days.


Michael P. Kenny

Executive Officer


Asbestos is found in many serpentine rock formations throughout California, including El Dorado County. These deposits are regular features of mountain building areas where there are numerous faults.

In El Dorado County, serpentine rock is quarried and ground into fine gravel, where it is then used as road bed material for much of the county’s 500-some miles of unpaved rural roadways. It is also used for driveway and landscaping construction.

Some of this asbestos contains fibrous tremolite, which are needlelike particles, which at high levels of exposure are associated with mesothelioma, an inoperable cancer of the membranes lining the lungs and chest.

The waxy, greenish-blue mineral is the California State Rock – not because asbestos is found within, but because it also where gold is found.

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