Fatal asbestosis 50 years after brief high intensity exposure in a vermiculite expansion plant

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2002 Apr 15;165(8):1145-9. doi: 10.1164/ajrccm.165.8.2110034.


The authors report the case of a 65-year-old accountant whose only asbestos exposure was during a summer job 50 years earlier in a California vermiculite expansion plant. Vermiculite is a silicate material that is useful in building and agriculture as a filler and insulating agent. He developed extensive fibrocalcific pleural plaques and end-stage pulmonary fibrosis, with rapidly progressive respiratory failure. Careful occupational and environmental history revealed no other source of asbestos exposure, and the initial clinical diagnosis was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; open lung biopsy shortly before his death confirmed asbestosis. Electron microscopic lung fiber burden analysis revealed over 8,000,000 asbestos fibers per gram dry lung, 68% of which were tremolite asbestos. Additional asbestiform fibers of composition not matching any of the standard asbestos varieties were also present at over 5,000,000 fibers per gram dry lung. Comparison analysis of a sample of Libby, Montana, vermiculite showed a similar mix of asbestiform fibers including tremolite asbestos. This case analysis raises several concerns: risks of vermiculite induced disease among former workers of the more than 200 expansion plants throughout the United States; health effects of brief but very high-intensity exposures to asbestos; and possible health effects in end-users of consumer products containing vermiculite.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aluminum Silicates / adverse effects*
  • Asbestosis / diagnostic imaging
  • Asbestosis / etiology*
  • Asbestosis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung / pathology
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Radiography
  • Time Factors


  • Aluminum Silicates
  • vermiculite