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Survey of the biological effects of refractory ceramic fibres: Overload and its possible consequences

: Brown, R.C.; Bellmann, B.; Muhle, H.; Davis, J.M.; Maxim, L.D.


The Annals of occupational hygiene 49 (2005), No.4, pp.295-307
ISSN: 0003-4878
ISSN: 1475-3162
Journal Article
Fraunhofer ITEM ()
refractory ceramic fibre; Epidemiology; Classification; Risk assessment; Toxicology

This paper summarizes the biological effects of refractory ceramic fibres (RCFs). RCFs are aluminosilicate glass insulation wools with similar chemical properties to other synthetic vitreous fibres (SVFs) or 'man-made vitreous fibres' (MMVFs). There is concern that RCFs could be significantly more pathogenic than other SVFs. This paper critically reviews the data on which this perception is based. Morbidity studies on workers in RCF manufacturing indicated that, in the United states, RCF exposure was associated with an increased incidence of pleural plaques and in both the united states and Europe with statistically significant changes in some measures of lung function (though not at present exposure levels). No interstitial fibrosis was found. An ongoing mortality study of limited statistical power has failed to indicate any increased incidence of lung cancer or mesothelioma. Findings in several early animal studies led to a large series of inhalation studies where rats exposed to high levels of RCF developed fibrosis and tumours but not those exposed to other SVFs. Similarly hamsters exposed to one sample (RCF1) developed mesothelioma. Subsequent analyses of the data indicated that the RCF used in these experiments had a significantly greater proportion of non-fibrous particles than those present in the other types of SVFs tested or in workplace air. Short-term studies indicated that pulmonary overload occurred at the same as RCF tissue burdens as those in the long-term animal bioassay. When RCFs were prepared in the same way as the other SVFs, a sample resulted with a more representative ratio of particles to fibres; this sample did not produce overload in short-term tests. SVFs have various abilities to persist in the lung tissue and thus accumulate to varying degrees. It is suggested that biopersistence is a key property. While RCFs are among the more persistent they are similar to many other fibre types. The scientific and regulatory implications of these findings are examined.