The efficiency of the light microscope with that of the electron microscope in detecting asbestos fibres in human lung tissue was computed. Necropsy material from 55 patients who had died from asbestos related diseases was analysed independently by phase contrast microscopy and electron microscopy. As expected the number of fibres identified using electron microscopy was higher than that identified by light microscopy. By adjusting the electron allow for the limited resolving power of the light microscope, however, a significant correlation of the number of fibres identified using the two methods was obtained. The best correlation was found with specimens containing crocidolite (correlation coefficient 0.79) and amosite (correlation coefficient 0.74), while chrysotile gave a much lower correlation (correlation coefficient 0.15). The cumulated fibre diameter distribution obtained using the electron microscope suggests that the light microscope is able to visualise only 5% of crocidolite, 26.5% of amosite, and 0.14% of chrysotile present in lung tissue. Therefore, although it is possible, using the electron microscope, to predict the asbestos fibre count that would be obtained by light microscopy, the reserve prediction cannot be made: it is impossible to determine the proportion of the various asbestos mineral types using the light microscope.
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