Comparison of Calidria chrysotile asbestos to pure tremolite: final results of the inhalation biopersistence and histopathology examination following short-term exposure

Inhal Toxicol. 2005 Aug;17(9):427-49. doi: 10.1080/08958370591002012.


Calidria chrysotile asbestos, which is a serpentine mineral, has been shown to be considerably less biopersistent than the durable amphibole mineral tremolite asbestos, which persists once deposited in the lung. The initial results of this inhalation biopersistence study in rats that demonstrates this difference were reported in Bernstein et al. (2003). This article presents the full results through 1 yr after cessation of the 5-day exposure. This study was based upon the recommendations of the European Commission (EC) Interim Protocol for the Inhalation Biopersistence of synthetic mineral fibers (Bernstein & Riego-Sintes, 1999). In addition, the histopathological response in the lung was evaluated following exposure. In order to quantify the dynamics and rate by which these fibers are removed from the lung, the biopersistence of a sample of commercial-grade chrysotile from the Coalinga mine in New Idria, CA, of the type Calidria RG144 and that of a long-fiber tremolite were studied. For synthetic vitreous fibers, the biopersistence of the fibers longer than 20 microm has been found to be directly related to their potential to cause disease. This study was designed to determine lung clearance (biopersistence) and the histopathological response. As the long fibers have been shown to have the greatest potential for pathogenicity, the aerosol generation technique was designed to maximize the number of long respirable fibers. The chrysotile samples were specifically chosen to have 200 fibers/cm3 longer than 20 microm in length present in the exposure aerosol. These longer fibers were found to be largely composed of multiple shorter fibrils. The tremolite samples were chosen to have 100 fibers/cm3 longer than 20 microm in length present in the exposure aerosol. Calidria chrysotile has been found to be one of the most rapidly cleared mineral fibers from the lung. The fibers longer than 20 microm in length are cleared with a half-time of 7 h. By 2 days postexposure all long fibers have dissolved/disintegrated into shorter pieces. The fibers between 5 and 20 microm in length were cleared with a half-time of 7 days. This length range represents a transition zone between those fibers that can be fully phagocytosed and cleared as particles and the longer fibers that cannot be fully engulfed by the macrophage. The fibers/objects shorter than 5 microm in length were cleared with a half-time of 64 days, which is faster than that reported for insoluble nuisance dusts such as TiO2. By 12 months postexposure, 99.92% of all the remaining chrysotile was less than 5 microm in length. Following the 5 days of repeated exposure to more than 48,000 chrysotile fibers/cm3 (190 fibers L > 20 microm), histopathological examination revealed no evidence of any inflammatory reaction either after the cessation of the last exposure or at any time during the subsequent 12-mo period. This is in marked contrast to the amphibole tremolite, which was also investigated using the same inhalation biopersistence protocol. The long tremolite fibers, once deposited in the lung, remain over the rat's lifetime with essentially an infinite half-time. Even the shorter fibers, following early clearance, also remain with no dissolution or further removal. At 365 days postexposure, there was a mean lung burden was of 0.5 million fibers L > 20 microm and 7 million fibers 5-20 microm in length with a total mean lung burden of 19.6 million fibers. The tremolite exposed rats, even with exposure to 16 times fewer total fibers than chrysotile, showed a pronounced inflammatory response with the rapid development of granulomas as seen at day 1 postexposure, followed by the development of fibrosis characterized by collagen deposition within these granulomas and by 90 days even mild interstitial fibrosis. With the short exposure, this study was not designed specifically to evaluate pathological response; however, it is quite interesting that even so there was such a marked response with tremolite. These findings provide an important basis for substantiating both kinetically and pathologically the differences between chrysotile and the amphibole tremolite. As Calidria chrysotile has been certified to have no tremolite fiber, the results of the current study together with the results from toxicological and epidemiological studies indicate that this fiber is not associated with lung disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Asbestos, Amphibole / pharmacokinetics
  • Asbestos, Amphibole / toxicity*
  • Asbestos, Serpentine / chemistry
  • Asbestos, Serpentine / pharmacokinetics
  • Asbestos, Serpentine / toxicity*
  • Atmosphere Exposure Chambers
  • Body Weight
  • Carcinogens / chemistry
  • Carcinogens / pharmacokinetics
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Half-Life
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Male
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission
  • Organ Size / physiology
  • Particle Size
  • Rats


  • Asbestos, Amphibole
  • Asbestos, Serpentine
  • Carcinogens
  • tremolite