In an attempt to explain the much greater risk of respiratory cancer at the same cumulative exposure in asbestos textile workers in Charleston, South Carolina, than in Quebec miners and millers, both exposed to chrysotile from the same source, 161 lung tissue samples taken at necropsy from dead cohort members were analysed by transmission electron microscopy. Altogether 1828 chrysotile and 3270 tremolite fibres were identified; in both cohorts tremolite predominated and fibre dimensions were closely similar. Lung fibre concentrations were analysed statistically (a) in 32 paired subjects matched for duration of employment and time from last employment to death and (b) in 136 subjects stratified by the same time variables. Both analyses indicated that the Quebec/Charleston ratios for chrysotile fibre concentration in lung tissue were even higher than the corresponding ratios of estimated exposure intensity (mpcf). After allowance for the fact that regression analyses suggested that the proportion of tremolite in dust was probably 2.5 times higher in Thetford Mines, Quebec, than in Charleston, the results from both matched pair and stratification analyses of tremolite fibre concentrations in lung were almost the same as for chrysotile. It is concluded that neither fibre dimensional differences nor errors in estimation of exposure can explain the higher risks of lung cancer observed in asbestos textile workers. The possible co-carcinogenic role of mineral oil used in the past in asbestos textile plants to control dust provides an alternative hypothesis deserving consideration.
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