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Evaluation of the Dark-Medium Objective Lens in Counting Asbestos Fibers by Phase-Contrast Microscopy
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    CC999999/Intramural CDC HHS/United States
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    A Japanese round-robin study revealed that analysts who used a dark-medium (DM) objective lens reported higher fiber counts from American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) Proficiency Analytical Testing (PAT) chrysotile samples than those using a standard objective lens, but the cause of this difference was not investigated at that time. The purpose of this study is to determine any major source of this difference by performing two sets of round-robin studies. For the first round-robin study, 15 AIHA PAT samples (five each of chrysotile and amosite generated by water-suspended method, and five chrysotile generated by aerosolization method) were prepared with relocatable cover slips and examined by nine laboratories. A second round-robin study was then performed with six chrysotile field sample slides by six out of nine laboratories who participated in the first round-robin study. In addition, two phase-shift test slides to check analysts' visibility and an eight-form diatom test plate to compare resolution between the two objectives were examined. For the AIHA PAT chrysotile reference slides, use of the DM objective resulted in consistently higher fiber counts (1.45 times for all data) than the standard objective (P-value < 0.05), regardless of the filter generation (water-suspension or aerosol) method. For the AIHA PAT amosite reference and chrysotile field sample slides, the fiber counts between the two objectives were not significantly different. No statistically significant differences were observed in the visibility of blocks of the test slides between the two objectives. Also, the DM and standard objectives showed no pattern of differences in viewing the fine lines and/or dots of each species images on the eight-form diatom test plate. Among various potential factors that might affect the analysts' performance of fiber counts, this study supports the greater contrast caused by the different phase plate absorptions as the main cause of high counts for the AIHA PAT chrysotile slides using the DM objective. The comparison of fiber count ratios (DM/standard) between the AIHA PAT chrysotile samples and chrysotile field samples indicates that there is a fraction of fibers in the PAT samples approaching the theoretical limit of visibility of the phase-contrast microscope with 3-degree phase-shift. These fibers become more clearly visible through the greater contrast from the phase plate absorption of the DM objective. However, as such fibers are not present in field samples, no difference in counts between the two objectives was observed in this study. The DM objective, therefore, could be allowed for routine fiber counting as it will maintain continuity with risk assessments based on earlier phase-contrast microscopy fiber counts from field samples. Published standard methods would need to be modified to allow a higher aperture specification for the objective.