The term asbestos refers to a group of serpentine (chrysotile) and amphibole (amosite, crocidolite, anthophyllite, tremolite and actinolite) minerals with a fibrous habit. Their chemical-physical properties make them one of the most important inorganic materials for industrial purposes and technological applications. However, the extraction, use and marketing of these minerals have been prohibited due to proven harmful effects, mainly involving the respiratory system. In addition to the known six minerals classified as asbestos, the natural amphiboles and serpentine polymorphs antigorite and lizardite, despite having the same composition of asbestos, do not have the same morphology. These minerals develop chemical and geometric (length > 5 μm, width < 3 μm and length: diameter > 3:1), but not morphological, analogies with asbestos, which is regulated by the WHO. The debate about their potential hazardous properties is open and ongoing; therefore, their morphological characterization has a key role in establishing a reliable asbestos hazard scenario. This review focuses on evaluating the most relevant papers, evidencing the need for a reappraisal. Different in vitro, in vivo and epidemiological studies report information about cleavage fragments with critical dimensions similar to asbestos fibres, but very few works target fragments below 5 µm in length. Breathable smaller fibres could have deleterious effects on human health and cannot be disregarded from the risk assessment process. Furthermore, a few studies suggest that the carcinogenic nature of short fibres is not excluded. This review highlights that it is worth investigating the effects of this size range of elongated mineral particles and fibres.
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