OBJECTIVES--To review the scientific literature on the health effects of refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs). The adverse effects of exposure to asbestos has led to concern about the potential for other fibrous materials to cause diseases. For this reason the human populations most heavily exposed to synthetic mineral fibres have been examined for any adverse effects and many types of fibre have been studied in animal experiments. One type of man made vitreous fibres (MMVFs), refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs), are principally used in thermal insulation at high temperatures--up to 1400 degrees C. As manufactured RCFs exist in a glassy, non-crystalline (sometimes called amorphous) state, they have various compositions, physical properties, and sized fibres. METHODS--All reports on the health effects of RCFs available up to the end of 1994 have been examined and the scientific literature reviewed although all publications have not necessarily been referenced. CONCLUSIONS--In recent inhalation experiments conducted with both rats and hamsters at the Research and Consulting Company, Geneva, at the highest dose tested (30 mg/m3) there was an increased incidence of tumours in both species. Lower doses were only examined in the rat and at these doses there was no significant excess of lung tumours. Epidemiological investigations of workers engaged in the manufacture of ceramic fibres have shown a small excess of pleural plaques. This phenomenon is being further investigated but could be due to confounding exposures. The populations available for study are small and their exposures fairly short, but it is considered prudent that they should remain under surveillance for some time to come. This is despite the fact that present exposures in the ceramic fibre industry are low (< 1 f/ml) and are being reduced.
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