Measurement of Fibers
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    Fiber-related disease has provided much of the impetus for fiber research in recent years. Asbestos has been the fiber type most commonly associated with disease. The name “asbestos” is a commercial term applied to the fibrous forms of several minerals that have been used for similar purposes and includes chrysotile, amosite, crocidolite, and the fibrous forms of tremolite, anthophyllite, and actinolite. The three primary diseases associated with asbestos exposure are asbestosis, the result of inflammation and collagen formation in lung tissue; lung cancer; and mesothelioma, an otherwise rare form of cancer associated with the lining surrounding the lungs. A current theory describing the toxicity of fibers indicates that fiber dose, fiber dimension, and fiber durability in lung fluid are the three primary factors determining fiber toxicity [Lippmann 1990].

    The dose, or number of fibers deposited in the lungs, is clearly an important factor in determining the likelihood of disease. Both fiber diameter and length are important in the deposition of fibers in the lungs and how long they are likely to remain in the lungs. Figure 1 indicates some of the factors that determine fiber deposition and removal in the lungs. Fiber length is thought to be important because the macrophages that normally remove particles from the lungs cannot engulf fibers having lengths greater than the macrophage diameter.

    Thus, longer fibers are more likely to remain in the lungs for an extended period of time. The macrophages die in the process of trying to engulf the fibers and release inflammatory cytokines and other chemicals into the lungs [Blake et al. 1997]. This and other cellular interactions with the fibers appear to trigger the collagen buildup in the lungs known as fibrosis or asbestosis and, over a longer period, produce cancer as well. Fiber diameter is also important because fiber aerodynamic behavior indicates that only small diameter fibers are likely to reach into and deposit in the airways of the lungs. The smaller the fiber diameter, the greater its likelihood of reaching the gas exchange regions. Finally, fibers that dissolve in lung fluid in a matter of weeks or months, such as certain glass fibers, appear to be somewhat less toxic than more insoluble fibers. The surface properties of fibers are also thought to have an effect on toxicity. Asbestos is one of the most widely studied toxic materials and there have been many symposia dedicated to and reviews of its behavior in humans and animals [Selikoff and Lee 1978; Rajhans and Sullivan 1981; WHO 1986; ATSDR 1990; Dement 1990].

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