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Am J Pathol. 1982 Oct;109(1):88-96.

Asbestos fibers and pleural plaques in a general autopsy population.


It has been claimed that symmetric lower zone pleural or diaphargmatic plaques are markers of asbestos exposure both in asbestos workers and the general population. In this study, total pulmonary asbestos burden was analyzed for 29 patients selected because pleural plaques were found at autopsy, and the results were compared with values obtained for 25 patients who had no occupational asbestos exposure. The average number of asbestos bodies in the plaque groups was 1732/g wet lung, and in the control group, 42/g wet lung. Uncoated asbestos fibers were extracted from lung and counted, measured, and identified by morphologic examination, electron diffraction, and energy-dispersive x-ray spectroscopy. The total number of fibers/per gram wet lung in the plaque group (114 x 10(3)) was similar to that in the control group (99 x 10(3), as was the number of chrysotile fibers (51 x 10(3) versus 29 x 10(3)). However, the plaque patients had a marked increase in the number of the commercially used high aspect ratio amphiboles, amosite and crocidolite (50 x 10(3) versus 1 x 10(3). A retrospective history of fairly certain asbestos exposure was obtained for 16 of the plaque patients, and such a history correlated strongly with increased numbers of commercial amphiboles in lung. It is concluded that 1) in this general autopsy population, two subgroups of patients are present. About one half of the patients appear to have developed pleural plaques as a result of asbestos exposure, while the etiology of the plaques in the other half is unclear; 2) the presence of pleural plaques correlates with a modest (50-fold) increase in numbers of long high-aspect ratio commercial amphiboles in lung tissue but does not correlate with numbers of chrysotile fibers, noncommercial amphiboles, or the total number of asbestos fibers; 3) asbestos-induced lesions are related to a complex set of mineralogic parameters and not to mere numbers of fibers in lung.

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