Electron microscopy of particles deposited in the lungs of nickel refinery workers
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The size, morphology, and chemical composition of particles deposited in the lungs of two nickel refinery workers were studied by scanning and transmission electron microscopy. The particles were extracted from the lung tissue by low-temperature ashing or by dissolution in tetramethylammonium hydroxide. The suitability of both sample preparation techniques was checked with reference materials. Both approaches lead to Fe-rich artifact particles. Low-temperature ashing leads to oxidation of small (diameter < 2 μm) metallic Ni and Ni sulfide particles, dissolution in tetramethylammonium hydroxide to removal of sulfate surface layers. Silicates and alumosilicates are the most abundant particle groups in the lungs of both subjects. From the various metal-dominated particle groups, Ni-rich particles are most abundant followed by Fe-rich and Ti-rich particles. Ni appears to be present predominantly as an oxide. Pure Ni metal and Ni sulfides were not observed. The presence of soluble Ni phases was not investigated as they will not be preserved during sample preparation. Based on their spherical morphology, it is estimated that a large fraction of Ni-rich particles (50–60 % by number) as well as Fe-rich and Cu-rich particles (27–45 %) originate from high-temperature processes (smelting, welding). This fraction is much lower for silicates (3–5 %), alumosilicates (1–2 %), and Ti-rich particles (9–11 %). The absence of metallic Ni particles most likely results from low exposure to this species. The absence of Ni sulfides may be either ascribed to low exposure or to fast clearance.
KeywordsNickel refinery Workplace aerosol Electron microscopy Lung deposition Nickel species
We would like to thank Gabriele Gorzawski for focussed ion beam investigations.
The manuscript was evaluated by the regional ethical committee of Norway (REK nord) at the University of Tromsø, and it was concluded by this committee that the study does not require an ethical approval.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
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