Airborne concentrations of chrysotile asbestos in serpentine quarries and stone processing facilities in Valmalenco, Italy

Andrea Cattaneo, Anna Somigliana, Mauro Gemmi, Ferruccio Bernabeo, Domenico Savoca, Domenico M. Cavallo, Pier A. Bertazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Asbestos may be naturally present in rocks and soils. In some cases, there is the possibility of releasing asbestos fibres into the atmosphere from the rock or soil, subsequently exposing workers and the general population, which can lead to an increased risk of developing asbestos-related diseases. In the present study, air contaminated with asbestos fibres released from serpentinites was investigated in occupational settings (quarries and processing factories) and in the environment close to working facilities and at urban sites. The only naturally occurrence of asbestos found in Valmalenco area was chrysotile; amphibole fibres were never detected. An experimental cut-off diameter of 0.25 mm was established for distinguishing between Valmalenco chrysotile and antigorite single fibres using selected area electron diffraction analyses. Air contamination from chrysotile fibres in the examined occupational settings was site-dependent as the degree of asbestos contamination of Valmalenco serpentinites is highly variable from place to place. Block cutting of massive serpentinites with multiple blades or discs and drilling at the quarry sites that had the highest levels of asbestos contamination generated the highest exposures to (i.e. over the occupational exposure limits) asbestos. Conversely, working activities on foliated serpentinites produced airborne chrysotile concentrations comparable with ambient levels. Environmental chrysotile concentrations were always below the Italian limit for life environments (0.002 f ml -1), except for one sample collected at a quarry property boundary. The present exposure assessment study should encourage the development of an effective and concordant policy for proper use of asbestos-bearing rocks and soils as well as for the protection of public health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)671-683
Number of pages13
JournalAnnals of Occupational Hygiene
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jul 17 2012


  • Asbestos
  • Atmospheric contamination
  • Chrysotile
  • Occupational exposure
  • Public policy
  • Quarrying and stone processing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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