The Differences between Chrysotile and Amphibole Asbestos

Many studies are conducted each year in pursuit of further knowledge of the specific biological effects of asbestos fibers in the human body. Since six unique fibers are identified as asbestos, a discrepancy has arisen regarding the effects of each individual fiber type. Chrysotile is a silicon-based fiber, identified as a serpentine mineral with a long and bendable character. The other five minerals, amosite, tremolite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite, are identified as amphiboles, are iron-based, and have a more strong and durable character. Their different chemistries result in very different effects within the human body and in the lungs specifically. Generally, chrysotile fibers are able to flush out of the lung cavities at a greater rate than amphibole fibers and are more soluble, meaning they are able to break apart more easily. Recent reviews of chrysotile and amphibole fibers determine a significant difference in their potency in causing mesothelioma and lung cancer. Asbestos attorneys at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm acknowledge the difference between the two types but reinforce that no form of asbestos exposure is safe in contact with the human body. All forms of asbestos are carcinogenic and lead to the development of asbestosis and numerous cancers.

The most recent analyses of the difference between the fibers concluded that it is the longer, thinner fibers that have the greatest potency. Chrysotile fibers are thin (0.8 angstroms) rolled sheets composed of magnesium silicate. The magnesium is on the outside of the sheet and is soluble. The crystalline structure is attacked and broken apart by the acid environment of white blood cells employed in response to any inhaled particle. In a recent study, chrysotile began clearing from the lungs immediately following deposition. By the end of the 5-day exposure, more than 90% of the inhaled fibers longer than 20 µm had already been cleared from the lung (as compared to the amosite exposure in which the longer fibers were not cleared).

The amosite asbestos exposure group showed a markedly different response. Amosite has a notably different physical form than chrysotile. While chrysotile is a rolled thin sheet, amosite asbestos is a double-chain silicate formed as a solid cylinder of silica.

Amosite has a very low dissolution coefficient even in an acid environment at environmental or human body temperatures. Amosite asbestos is biopersistent in both the lung and in the white blood cell environments. Following deposition in the lung, all amosite fiber lengths persist, and even the short fibers no longer clear after 90 days post-exposure, most likely being locked up in the intense inflammatory response caused by the longer fibers.

By the end of the 5-day exposure, an intense inflammatory response to amosite was observed including tumor formation around the longer fibers, which the white blood cells could not clear. By 28 days post-exposure, the continued inflammation resulted in the formation of interstitial fibrosis. The response to amosite is similar to that of other amphibole asbestos that has been studied previously.

In contrast to the chrysotile fibers, at 90 days post-exposure the amosite fibers were still observed penetrating the airway wall or located completely underneath the airway and on the surface of the respiratory tissue. Even more important in terms of disease formation, substantial number of amosite fibers were found partly or fully embedded into the interstitial space with fibers observed wholly or partly inside alveolar macrophages (who function is to remove debris) and touching air cells, ducts, or respiratory bronchioles.

In a related study, the commercial chrysotiles from the Coalinga mine in New Indria, CA and long-fiber tremolite were examined. The findings of this study mirrored that of the aforementioned one; the chrysolite fibers broke down within 2 days, while the tremolite fibers remained for an essentially amount of time with no dissolution.

Residents who live close to mining, milling or manufacturing sites that involve asbestos-containing material may be potentially exposed to higher levels of airborne tremolite asbestos than levels in general ambient air. EPA, ATSDR, and other agencies currently are investigating levels of amphibole asbestos exposure that residents (including children) who were not employed in the vermiculite mines and mills may have and are experiencing. Asbestos and lung cancer lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge those who suspect asbestos exposure to seek legal guidance. Contact an experienced asbestos attorney today to discuss your asbestos claim.

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