Retention patterns in lung tissue (determined by transmission electron microscopy and energy dispersive spectrometry) of chrysotile, tremolite, and crocidolite fibres were analysed in 69 dead asbestos cement workers and 96 referents. There was an accumulation of tremolite with time of employment. Among workers who died within three years of the end of exposure, the 13 with high tremolite concentrations had a significantly longer duration of exposure than seven in a low to intermediate category (medians 32 v 20 years; p = 0.018, one sided). Crocidolite showed similar patterns of accumulation. In workers who died more than three years after the end of exposure, there were no correlations between concentrations of amphibole fibres and time between the end of exposure and death. Chrysotile concentrations among workers who died shortly after the end of exposure were higher than among the referents (median difference in concentrations 13 million fibres (f)/g dry weight; p = 0.033, one sided). No quantitative differences in exposure (duration or intensity) could be shown between workers with high and low to intermediate concentrations. Interestingly, all seven workers who had had a high intensity at the end of exposure (> 2.5 f/ml), had low to intermediate chrysotile concentrations at death, whereas those with low exposure were evenly distributed (31 subjects in both concentration categories); hence, there was a dependence between last intensity of exposure and chrysotile concentration (p = 0.014). Among 14 workers with a high average intensity of exposure, both those (n = 5) with high tissue concentrations of chrysotile and those (n = 10) with high tissue concentrations of tremolite fibres had more pronounced fibrosis than those with low to intermediate concentrations (median fibrosis grades for chrysotile: 2 v 1, p = 0.021; for tremolite: 2 v 0.5, p = 0.012). Additionally, workers who died shortly after the end of exposure with high concentrations of chrysotile and crocidolite had smoked more than those with low intermediate concentrations (medians for chrysotile 35 v 15 pack-years, p = 0.030; for crocidolite 37 v 15 pack-years, p = 0.012). The present data indicate that chrysotile has a relatively rapid turnover in human lungs, whereas the amphiboles, tremolite and crocidolite, have a slower turnover. Further, chrysotile retention may be dependent on dose rate. Chrysotile and crocidolite deposition and retention may be increased by tobacco smoking; chrysotile and tremolite by fibrosis.
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