Asbestos analysis: Drinking water contamination

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  • Published: Mar 15, 2019
  • Author: David Bradley
  • Channels: Chemometrics & Informatics
thumbnail image: Asbestos analysis: Drinking water contamination

Asbestos assessment

Asbestos (tremolite) silky fibres on muscovite from Bernera, Outer Hebrides. Photograph taken at the Natural History Museum, London

A stepwise multiple differential Fourier-transform infra-red spectra method inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry with a partial least squares method, and have been used to carry out a quantitative analysis of asbestos in drinking water.

Asbestos is a general term for six naturally occurring silicate minerals that have in common fine, fibre-like crystals. These minerals are chrysotile (white asbestos), amosite (an iron silicate also more correctly known as grunerite), crocidolite (also known fibrous riebeckite), tremolite (the fibrous form), anthophyllite (a polymorph of the mineral cummingtonite), and actinolite (calcium magnesium iron silicate). Broadly speaking, they have been mined for 4000 years but it was only in the 19th Century that industrial-scale mining began when the "fire-proofing" and insulating properties of composite materials made from asbestos began to be used widely.

Ingestion risks

It is now well known that inhaling fibres and particles of asbestos can lead to lethal lung disease - asbestosis, lung cancer, and both pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. How this happens is less clear given that medical experts in the field will point out that every single person in the world from infancy to old age has at least one million asbestos fibres in their lungs. It is inescapable, although the risk of developing lung disease from asbestos inhalation is much, much higher through occupational exposure. Less well known is that ingestion of asbestos can lead to stomach and pancreatic cancer. Contrary to the received wisdom surrounding asbestos and its different colloquial forms - white, grey, and blue asbestos - there is no form of these minerals that are risk free.

Now, writing in the journal Anal Chim Acta a team from China discusses their analysis of asbestos in drinking water. Bei Zheng, Lijie Zang, and Hongyan Li of the Key Laboratory of Drinking Water Science and Technology, at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, in Beijing, China, Wentao Li of the Shenzhen Institute of Information Technology, Haitao Wang of the First Affiliated Hospital of PLA General Hospital, in Beijing, Ming Zhang of Zhejiang University of Technology, College of Environment, Hangzhou, Xiaohong Song of the company Shimadzu also in Beijing comprise the team.

Ongoing research

In parallel with the analysis, the team investigated the in vivo migration of ingested asbestos in mice. The team obtained quantification limits for the six kinds of asbestos in inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry and Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy in water at 0.0468 to 0.0705 milligrams per litre and from 0.0039 to 0.0064 milligrams per litre, respectively. Recovery level of test asbestos from the samples was more than 95%.

"Asbestos was found mainly to accumulate in the livers of mice," the team writes. They add that "The Fourier-transform infra-red spectroscopy inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry method can be used to detect and precisely quantify asbestos in water samples and in animal tissues."

The team points out that while inhalation is a well known risk for the carcinogenicity of asbestos, there is no evidence that ingested asbestos causes cancer. Nevertheless they say, the public has been concerned about exposure to asbestos in drinking water from minerals, industrial waste, and deteriorating asbestos–cement pipes in water distribution systems. As such, it is important to have in place well-established techniques for the analysis of asbestos in drinking water as the medical science surrounding this group of minerals advances.

Related Links

Anal Chim Acta 2019, online: "Quantitative analysis of asbestos in drinking water and its migration in mice using fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry"

Article by David Bradley

The views represented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of John Wiley and Sons, Ltd.

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