The Size Distribution of Airborne Bolivian Crocidolite Fibers

Publication Information:

Van Orden, Drew R., Richard J. Lee, Matthew S. Sanchez, Matthew D. Zock, “The Size Distribution of Airborne Bolivian Crocidolite Fibers“, Annals of Respiratory Medicine, Case Report, July 26, 2012

Year: 2012

Topics: EH&S, Mining & Minerals, Particle Characterization

Current Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) risk models and asbestos fiber counting techniques for monitoring airborne exposures treat all fibers as being equivalent and ignore the effect of dimension on toxicity. While this may have been appropriate when modern analytical methods were not available, the measurement world is now fully capable of making the appropriate distinctions. The importance of width as a determinant of carcinogenicity has been recognized for nearly 30 years within the published literature. Stanton, in a landmark study of a suite of fibrous materials, found that durable mineral fibers with widths less than 0.25 mm and lengths longer than 8 mm were causally associated with the induction of tumors. Pott, in a later study, postulated a fiber toxicity model that agreed reasonably well with the Stanton findings, but extended the concept to include varying toxicity as a function of length and width. Wylie et al. reanalyzed samples used by Davis et al. and found that tumor generation was strongly and inversely correlated with fiber width. Crump testified increasing fiber length was correlated with disease occurrence.

Lippman reviewed a number of studies and suggested that mesothelioma was closely associated with long, thin fibers. Berman et al. published a risk model, which found that disease was correlated almost exclusively with fibers longer than 40 mm and width less than 0.25 mm. Recently, Loomis et al. reanalyzed textile mill samples and found that aspect ratios greater than 40:1 were highly correlated with disease. Incorporation of width into risk models has been limited by the availability of data from operating asbestos plants and, in particular, the observation of an asbestos plant for which there is no observable mesothelioma. There have been only limited studies published on the dimensions of asbestos fibers, with a few serving as the primary references in other literature.

A rare opportunity to collect detailed concentration and dimensional data of airborne crocidolite from an operating asbestos-cement plant using modern analytical procedures arose, providing a chance to supplement the existing literature on airborne fiber dimensions. The asbestos-cement plant is located in the eastern end of Cochabamba, Bolivia along Highway 4. Cochabamba is a relatively large city located in the Andes Mountains, approximately 250 km southeast of the capital La Paz. The city sits in a valley that runs east-west with mountains to the north and south. The crocidolite used in the products made at this facility is mined in central Bolivia, approximately 75 km northwest of Santa Cruz. The crocidolite is a fibrous magnesioriebeckite 14 (blue asbestos). Crocidolite fibers from Bolivia were the subject of prior reports suggesting the fibers are generally longer and thicker than crocidolite from Australia or South Africa.

At the cement plant, the run-of-mine crocidolite was first pulverized using a hammer mill and then sieved on vibratory sieves to produce fibers of limited size ranges for use in the cement. The sieved crocidolite is mixed with other components, including recycled cement product, to produce a slurry that is vacuum filtered into sheet form. The sheets are then manually molded into a corrugated shape, air dried, and sawed (using circular saws) to accepted dimensions. The sawed sheets are cured in soaking pits for 28 days before being shipped to the consumer. Prior to shipping, the sheets are finished by a light hand sanding followed (at customer request) by applying one or more coats of paint.

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