First Identification of Pulmonary Asbestos Fibres in a Spanish Population

This study aimed to characterize, for the first time in Spain, the type of asbestos fibres (AF) in the lungs of exposed and non-exposed populations.

Lung samples from 38 subjects living in Barcelona and Ferrol, Spain, were studied, which were divided into three groups: Group A—five subjects without known respiratory disease; Group B—20 exshipyard workers and Group C—13 patients with lung cancer. After eliminating the organic material, the inorganic residue was analysed using electronic microscopy (EM). To identify the type of fibre, the samples were analysed by scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy (EDX).

As a result, all the fibres identified corresponded to amphiboles (crocidolite 45%, anthophyllite 22%, tremolite 16%, amosite 15% and actinolite 3%). In 14 patients (37%), a single type of asbestos was found in the lungs (amosite in two, actinolite in one, anthophyllite in four, crocidolite in five and tremolite in two). Forty-six percent of the AF analysed had a length > 5 μm and a diameter < 0.2 μm.

The results of this study provide the first data on the type of asbestos retained in the lung of Spanish population. A particularly striking finding is the exclusive retention of amphiboles, which suggests that chrysotile is eliminated after inhalation. Our findings support estimations considering Spain and other southern European countries with similar asbestos imports and consumption at a high risk to develop asbestos-related diseases in the years to come.

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