Mentor: Professor Chris Oze
Asbestos is a known toxic material resulting in health problems (i.e. lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis (pulmonary fibrosis)) due to respiratory and gastrointestinal exposure. The term asbestos refers to any mineral with fibrous character; however, asbestos material is divided into two mineralogical categories: amphibole asbestos and serpentine asbestos. These two minerals are structurally and chemically very different; serpentine asbestos (chrysotile, commonly referred to as “white asbestos”) has a sheet-like structure and amphibole asbestos (most commonly known as tremolite) is a needle-like single-chained silicate. Studies have shown that human toxicity is dissimilar between the two minerals; however, the mechanism of human toxicity of amphibole and serpentine asbestos dissolution and the release of metals present has not been fully addressed. Amphibole asbestos has been determined to be more harmful than serpentine due to the needle-like fibers of amphibole easily penetrating lung and gastrointestinal tissue. We propose that the toxicity of asbestos is also associated with the concentration and release of trace elements and metals (Cd, Cr, Ni, Co, V, and Fe) secreted into the body during dissolution by bodily fluids. Many of these trace elements are known carcinogens and may be linked to asbestos related diseases. The objective of our study is to investigate the chemical toxicity of the two asbestiform minerals. We are performing dissolution experiments to evaluate the release of metals from serpentine and amphibole asbestos. Simulated lung fluid (SLF) (a buffered salt solution) and simulated gastric fluid (SGF), a slightly acidic solution, both at 98.6 degrees are being used to evaluate the reaction kinetics of the serpentine and amphibole asbestiform minerals. Ultimately this study will provide supplementary information to support findings that the amphibole form is more chemically toxic to the human body compared to the serpentine form.