Is there transplacental transfer of asbestos? A study of 40 stillborn infants

Abida K. Haque, Danet M. Vrazel, Keith D. Burau, Sharon P. Cooper, Thomas Downs

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12 Scopus citations


An autopsy study was conducted to investigate whether there is transplacental transfer of asbestos in humans. The asbestos burden of lung, liver, skeletal muscle, and placenta digests of 40 stillborn infants was determined using a bleach digestion method. The fibers detected in the tissue digests were characterized as to the type of asbestos, using electron microscopy, energy-dispersive x-ray analysis, and selected-area diffraction analysis. Placental digests of 45 full-term, liveborn infants were similarly processed as controls. Low levels of small, thin, uncoated asbestos fibers were detected in the placentas and organs of 37.5% of the stillborn infants (15 of 40). The fiber sizes ranged from 0.05 to 5.0 μm in length and 0.03 to 0.3 μm in width, with a mean length of 1.15 μm and a mean width of 0.069 μm. Maximum numbers of fibers were found in the lungs (mean 235,400 fibers/g; n = 10), followed by liver (mean 212,833 fibers/g; n = 6), placenta (mean 164,500 fibers/g; n = 4), and skeletal muscle (80,000 fibers/g; n = 1). The fibers were detected at all stages of gestation and showed no association with gestational age. A significant association was found between fiber presence and working mothers, and positive but nonsignificant associations were found with maternal history of drug abuse, previous abortions, and fetal maceration. No association was found between premature rupture of membranes and fiber presence. No fibers were detected in the 45 placentas of the liveborn control infants. There was a highly significant difference in the asbestos fiber counts of the placentas of the stillborn and liveborn infants (p < .001). Our studies demonstrate the presence of short and thin asbestos fibers in stillborn infants and their positive association with working mothers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)877-892
Number of pages16
JournalPediatric Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1996


  • asbestos
  • autopsy study
  • stillborn infants
  • transplacental transfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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