Quantification of short and long asbestos fibers to assess asbestos exposure: a review of fiber size toxicity

Environ Health. 2014 Jul 21:13:59. doi: 10.1186/1476-069X-13-59.


The fibrogenicity and carcinogenicity of asbestos fibers are dependent on several fiber parameters including fiber dimensions. Based on the WHO (World Health Organization) definition, the current regulations focalise on long asbestos fibers (LAF) (Length: L ≥ 5 μm, Diameter: D < 3 μm and L/D ratio > 3). However air samples contain short asbestos fibers (SAF) (L < 5 μm). In a recent study we found that several air samples collected in buildings with asbestos containing materials (ACM) were composed only of SAF, sometimes in a concentration of ≥10 fibers.L-1. This exhaustive review focuses on available information from peer-review publications on the size-dependent pathogenetic effects of asbestos fibers reported in experimental in vivo and in vitro studies. In the literature, the findings that SAF are less pathogenic than LAF are based on experiments where a cut-off of 5 μm was generally made to differentiate short from long asbestos fibers. Nevertheless, the value of 5 μm as the limit for length is not based on scientific evidence, but is a limit for comparative analyses. From this review, it is clear that the pathogenicity of SAF cannot be completely ruled out, especially in high exposure situations. Therefore, the presence of SAF in air samples appears as an indicator of the degradation of ACM and inclusion of their systematic search should be considered in the regulation. Measurement of these fibers in air samples will then make it possible to identify pollution and anticipate health risk.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Animals
  • Asbestos / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Particle Size


  • Air Pollutants
  • Asbestos