Biological Effects of Mount Saint Helens Volcanic Ash on Cultured Human Alveolar Macrophages

T. L. McLemore, J. E. Mauldin, R. Teague, G. Ford, D. L. Busbee, Nelda Wray, A. C. Griffin, S. D. Greenberg

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Free alveolar macrophages (FAMs) obtained by bronchoalveolar lavage from healthy nonsmoking volunteers were incubated with varying concentrations (0–300 μg/ml) of Mt. Saint Helens volcanic ash obtained from either Portland, Oregon, or Pullman, Washington, to assess the cytotoxic effects of the ash on human lung cells. Trypan dye exclusion techniques were employed for assessment of cell viability. Following the initial 24 hour culture with the Portland ash samples, decreased viability was observed at all ash concentrations (P < 0.001 in all instances), and further decreases in viability were noted at 48 and 72 hours for all concentrations of ash tested (P < 0.001 in all instances). When the Pullman, Washington, ash sample was evaluated, a decrease in cell viability was noted for the 300 μg/ml concentration (P < 0.017) after the initial 24 hours in culture. Further decreases in cell viability were noted only when cells were cultured for longer time intervals (48 and 72 hours) (P < 0.05 in all instances). Differences in cellular response to the 2 ash samples were further investigated by exposing FAMs from a single individual to the 2 different types of ash. These studies demonstrated similar cytotoxic effects of the 2 ash samples at all concentrations and times tested (P < 0.30 in all instances) with the exception of the 100 μg/ml concentrations at 72 hours (P < 0.020). These data suggest that the differences observed between the 2 types of ash in the independent studies are probably related to interindividual variation in FAM response to the ash rather than to differences in the cytotoxicities of the 2 ash samples. Cytotoxicity of the volcanic ash was also compared with other environmentally relevant airborne particulates, such as amosite and chrysotile asbestos, as well as amorphous and crystalline silica. These results demonstrated an intermediate cytotoxic effect of the ash between innocuous amorphous silica and the very cytotoxic chrysotile asbestos. The affinity for volcanic ash to adsorb tritiated benzo(a)pyrene (3H-BaP) was also compared with that of amorphous silica and amosite asbestos. These studies demonstrate that volcanic ash has intermediate adsorption qualities (4.3 ± 0.1; pmoles 3H-BaP adsorbed/μg particulate ± SD) between those of amorphous silica (1.9 ± 1.0) and amosite asbestos (7.8 ± 1.2) (P < 0.05 in all instances). These data suggest volcanic ash exhibits moderate biological properties compared with those of other environmentally important airborne particulates. Whether in vitro studies reflect in vivo response of human lung cells to the ash cannot be determined at this time, and follow-up of assessment of individuals exposed to the ash will be required to assess its long-term effects on pulmonary tissue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-35
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1984

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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