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The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Mine Safety and Health Administration do not regulate cleavage fragments of amphibole and serpentine minerals as asbestos, even when particles meet the dimensional criteria for counting under standard phase-contrast microscopy methods. The OSHA ID-160 method cautions that discriminatory counting is difficult and should not be attempted unless necessary and no procedure is provided for differentiation. A standard published by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM International D7200-06) includes an attempt to codify a procedure but recognizes that the procedure should be validated in an inter-laboratory study. The US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health has carried out such a study with multiple laboratories using slides made from riebeckite and crocidolite, grunerite and amosite, tremolite and tremolite asbestos, and actinolite and actinolite asbestos using two different measurement aids (graticules). The asbestos fibers had dimensions consistent with those reported for air samples from actual amphibole asbestos operations, and the cleavage fragments were also dimensionally consistent with those found in non-asbestos mining and milling operations. The procedure for discriminating asbestos fibers from other mineral particles in the ASTM Standard calls for the recognition of characteristics supposedly common to asbestos. For the asbestos fibers created in this study, these characteristics were found not to be common and generally a function of length. More importantly, different laboratories did not recognize these features consistently. Laboratories were much more consistent in measuring dimensions, but excessive overlap in the lengths of asbestos fibers and cleavage fragments rendered length a poor criterion for discrimination. The ASTM discrimination procedure as written could not be supported on the basis of this study. Width was a much more consistent parameter for distinguishing the asbestos and non-asbestos fibers in this study and inclusion of aspect ratio, while considered important by some researchers, did not refine the discrimination further. The ability of the majority of microscopists in this study to discriminate fibers and cleavage fragments through measurement of particle widths was determined and found to be within limits of uncertainty typical for air sampling measurements. A width criterion might be a very simple and useful aid where discrimination between asbestos and non-asbestos fibers in fiber counting by phase-contrast microscopy is required for further investigation. Recognition of asbestos features can also be retained as excessive recognition by some laboratories will lead to a conservative decision for additional investigation.


Martin Harper, Eun Gyung Lee, James E Slaven, David L Bartley. An inter-laboratory study to determine the effectiveness of procedures for discriminating amphibole asbestos fibers from amphibole cleavage fragments in fiber counting by phase-contrast microscopy. The Annals of occupational hygiene. 2012 Jul;56(6):645-59

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PMID: 22456032

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