Asbestos body (AB) concentrations in bronchoalveolar lavage samples of 15 brake lining (BL) workers exposed only to chrysotile have been determined and compared with those from 44 asbestos cement (AC) workers extensively exposed to amphiboles. The mean AB concentrations (263 +/- 802 and 842 +/- 2086 AB/ml respectively) for those groups did not differ significantly but were much higher than those found in control groups. Analytical electron microscopy of asbestos body cores showed that in the BL group 95.6% were chrysotile fibres whereas in the AC group amphiboles accounted for 93.1%. The size characteristics of the central fibres differed for chrysotile and amphibole AB, the former being shorter and thinner. Examination of repeated bronchoalveolar lavage samples showed that the mechanisms of clearance of chrysotile fibres do not affect AB concentration for at least 10 months after cessation of exposure. It thus appears that routine counting of ABs in BAL allows the assessment of current or recent occupational exposures to asbestos. Exposures to chrysotile lead to AB concentrations comparable with those encountered in exposures to amphiboles.
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