Our research group is involved in the study of mineral fibers.

Mineral fibres are ubiquitous on Earth and because many of them possess outstanding technological properties, they have been used since ancient times for a huge number of applications. It is now widely accepted that they represent one of the most interesting and curious example of inorganic to organic sphere interaction with direct consequences for the human health.


Bundle of chrysotile fibres from Valmalenco (Italy). Courtesy A. Cavallo UNIMI.

The most important mineral fibres are serpentine asbestos (chrysotile), amphibole asbestos (crocidolite) and the zeolite erionite. Because of their peculiar fibrous-asbestiform crystal habit and chemical-physical surface reactivity, these mineral fibres may induce, if inhaled, fatal lung diseases.

All amphibole asbestos minerals are banned worldwide whereas chrysotile is banned only in the countries strictly following the indication of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) which includes chrysotile in Group 1 ”substance carcinogenic to humans”. No ban has been proposed for the zeolite erionite so far.

Despite the clear position of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, chrysotile asbestos is still largely used in about 72% of the countries worldwide including Brasil, China, and Russia. These countries deny the ban of chrysotile asbestos for which a safe use is permitted. Their position is entrenched in the assumption that only amphibole asbestos minerals are hazardous (the amphibole hyphothesis). The chrysotile ban litigation is still an open issue mostly because revealing the relationship between asbestos and human toxicity is not straightforward at all. The difficulties stem from the fact that mineral fibers possess a variety of chemical compositions, atomic structural arrangements, morphologies that affect biogeochemical reactions in the body. Due to the interplay of all these factors, the mechanisms by which mineral fibres induces cyto- and geno-toxic damage remain unclear.


Chrysotile bundle inside the lung tissues of a rat. Note the formation of asbetsos bodies at the tip of the bundle. Courtesy N. Bursi Gandolfi.

In this scenario, our mission is to study the nature of mineral fibers, their activity and biological interaction in order to develop a general model to assess their toxicity potential.

Parallel to the research line on mineral fibres, our group is also involved in the study of the thermal transformation of asbestos containing wastes in view of their safe recycling as secondary raw materials.

Actual policies for the reduction of exposure of the population to asbestos fibres prompt the abatement and disposal of asbestos containing materials (ACMs). The removal of large amounts of ACMs calls for another problem: where to safely dispose such hazardous wastes? There are only a few active landfills for the disposal of ACMs in Europe and the recent European directives clearly indicate that dumping in landfill should be discouraged. In fact, such dumping sites do not assure zero risk of fibre dispersion in air and water in the very short and long term. An alternative solution to landfill disposal is the recycling of ACMs via direct temperature induced transformation and recycling of the product of transformation (a safe secondary raw material) for the production of building materials. The transformation product must be asbestos free, as a result of crystal-chemical transformation, and it is a source of calcium and silica to be recycled as secondary raw material. This secondary raw material can be safely recycled for the production of many industrially attractive products such as bricks, plastic materials, glasses, glass-ceramics, ceramic frits, ceramic pigments, cement and concrete.

Our mission is to find a sustainable environmentally friendly solution for the thermal denaturation of asbestos containing watstes and safe recycling of the secondary raw material.

The actual research lines include:

  • characterization of the structure, crystal chemistry and surface activity of mineral fibres;
  • study of the dissolution in vitro of mineral fibres;
  • synchrotron radiation based studies of the interaction of mineral fibers with organic (rat, human) tissues;
  • development of a general model of toxicity of mineral fibres and case studies;
  • industrial applications of the concept of thermal transformation of asbestos containing wastes and recycling of the secondary raw material.

Granted project in progress:

1) FAR2017 (2018-2019, 70k euro) FONDO DI ATENEO PER LA RICERCA ANNO  2017 PROGETTO DI RICERCA INTERDISCIPLINARE – Fibre potential toxicity Index (FPTI).  Resp. scientifico: prof. A.F. Gualtieri.
2) Bando per il cofinanziamento di progetti di ricerca finalizzati allo sviluppo di tecnologie di recupero, riciclaggio e trattamento di rifiuti non rientranti nelle categorie già servite dai consorzi di filiera, all’ecodesign dei prodotti ed alla corretta gestione dei relativi rifiuti (2018-2020, 125k euro).  Resp. scientifico: prof. G. Lusvardi.

Some recent papers:

BLOISE A., CATALANO M., BARRESE E., GUALTIERI A. F., BURSI GANDOLFI N., CAPELLA S., BELLUSO E. (2015) – TG/DSC study of the thermal behaviour of hazardous mineral fibres. Journal of Thermal Analysis and Calorimetry.

A.F. Gualtieri, A. Viani, G. Sgarbi, G. Lusvardi (2012) In vitro biodurability of the product of thermal transformation of cement-asbestos. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 205-206, 63-71.

A.F. Gualtieri, C. Giacobbe, C. Viti (2012) The dehydroxylation of serpentine minerals. American Mineralogist, 97, 666-680.

A.F. Gualtieri (2012) Mineral fibre-based building materials and their health hazards. Chapter 8 In “Toxicity of Building Materials” (pp. 486), Edited by F. Pacheco-Torgal, S. Jalali and A. Fucic, Woodhead Publishing 166-195.

Viani, A.F. Gualtieri, S. Pollastri, C. Rinaudo, A. Croce, G. Urso (2013) Crystal chemistry of the high temperature product of transformation of cement-asbestos. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 248-249, 69-80.

A.F. Gualtieri (2013) Amianto: stato dell’arte e dimensioni del problema in Italia. Notiziario 2011 Società Reggiana di Scienze Naturali, ISSN 2280-9791, 53-60.

Viani, A.F. Gualtieri, M. Secco, L. Peruzzo, G. Artioli, G. Cruciani (2013) Crystal chemistry of cement-asbestos. American Mineralogist, 98, 1095-1105.

F. Gualtieri, C. Giacobbe, C. Rinaudo, A. Croce, M. Allegrina, G. Gaudino, H. Yang, M, Carbone (2013) Preliminary results of the spectroscopic and structural characterization of mesothelioma inducing crocidolite fibers injected in mice. Periodico di Mineralogia, 82(2), 299-312.

A.F. Gualtieri (2013) Recycling asbestos-containing material (ACM) from construction and demolition waste (CDW). Chapter 20 In “Handbook of recycled concrete and demolition waste” (pp. 646), Edited by F. Pacheco-Torgal, V.W.Y. Tam, J.A. Labrincha, Y. Ding and J. de Brito, Woodhead Publishing Series in Civil and Structural Engineering 47, 500-525.

Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri, M. Lassinantti Gualtieri, M. Hanuskova, A. Cavallo, G. Gaudino (2014) The zeta potential of mineral fibres. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 276, 469-479.

A.F. Gualtieri, S. Pollastri, N. Bursi Gandolfi, F. Ronchetti, C. Albonico, A. Cavallo, G. Zanetti, P. Marini, O. Sala (2014) Determination of the concentration of asbestos minerals in highly contaminated mine tailings: an example from abandoned mine waste of Crètaz and Emarese (Valle d’Aosta, Italy). American Mineralogist, 99, 1233-1247.

Croce, M. Allegrina, P. Trivero, C. Rinaudo, A. Viani, S. Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri (2014) The concept of ‘end of waste’ and recycling of hazardous materials: in depth characterization of the product of thermal transformation of cement-asbestos. Mineralogical Magazine, 78(5), 1177-1191.

Pugnaloni, G. Lucarini, C. Rubini, A. Smorlesi, M. Tomasetti, E. Strafella, T. Armeni, A.F. Gualtieri (2015) Raw and thermally treated cement-asbestos exerts different toxicity effects on A549 cells in vitro. Acta Histochemica, 117, 29-39.

Pollastri, F. D’Acapito, A. Trapananti, I. Colantoni, G.B. Andreozzi, A.F. Gualtieri (2015) The chemical environment of iron in mineral fibres. A combined X-ray absorption and Mössbauer spectroscopic study. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 298, 282-293.

Bursi Gandolfi, A.F. Gualtieri, S. Pollastri, E. Tibaldi, F. Belpoggi (2015) Assessment of asbestos body formation by high resolution FEG-SEM after exposure of Sprague-Dawley rats to chrysotile, crocidolite, or erionite. Journal of Hazardous Materials, 306, 95-104.

Selected Congress Contributions (O=oral; P=poster)

A.F. Gualtieri, Pollastri S. (2014) The Zeta potential of mineral fibres. 21st General Meeting of IMA South Africa 2014, 1-5/09/2014 Sandton, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (O).

A.F. Gualtieri, S. Pollastri, F. D’Acapito, A. Trapananti, S. Quartieri (2014) Chemical environment of iron of mineral fibres determined by XAS experiments. 21st General Meeting of IMA South Africa 2014, 1-5/09/2014 Sandton, Johannesburg, Gauteng, South Africa (O).

Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri, F. D’Acapito, A. Trapananti, L. Colantoni (2014) X-ray absorption spectroscopy study of the structural environment of iron in mineral fibres. Congresso Congiunto SGI-SIMP, Milano 10-12/09/2014 (O).

Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri, A. Pugnaloni, K. Ignatyev, A. Croce (2015) In situ micro-Xanes, micro-XRD and XRF iron mapping study of the morphostructural and chimica changes of mineral fibres in contact with cell cultures. XXIII SILS Meeting, Trento (Italy) 8-10/07/2015 (O).

Bursi Gandolfi, S. Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri (2015) Study of the asbestos bodies and chimica-physical modification of mineral fibres in rat histological tissues using electron microscopy and micro-Raman. ECMS 2015, Roma (Italy), 7-9-11/2015 (O).

A.F. Gualtieri (2015) Asbestos detection and prevention: the European Experience. 2015 Weinman Symposium “International Conference on Mesothelioma in populations exposed to Naturally Occurring Asbestiform fibers”, Sullivan Conference Center, University of Hawai’i, Honolulu (Hawai’i USA), 9-10/11/2015 (O).


Giacobbe, A. Viani, A.F. Gualtieri, C. Rinaudo, M. Musa, A. Croce (2012) Structure modification of crocidolite in organic media: preliminary results. XX Convegno SILS, Campus Università della Calabria, Arcavacata di Rende (CS) luglio 18-20, 2012 (P).

Pugnaloni A., Lucarini G., Rubini C., Smorlesi A., Giantomassi F., Gualtieri A.F. (2012) In vitro biological effects of raw and thermally treated asbestos containing materials. 66° Congresso Nazionale S.I.A.I. Società Italiana di Anatomia e Istologia. Pistoia 20-23 settembre 2012 (P).

Rinaudo C., Croce A., Allegrina M., Gualtieri A.F., Pollastri S. (2013) Micro-Raman spectroscopy, a powerful technique for the study of fibrous minerals. 4-17 Sessione 4 Biogeosceinces B.1 Minerals and Biosphere. Geoitalia 2013, IX Forum Italiano di Scienze della Terra, Pisa, 16-18-09-13 (P).

Pugnaloni A., Lucarini G., Rubini C., Smorlesi A., Giantomassi F., Gualtieri A.F. (2013) Biological effects in vitro of raw and thermally treated asbestos-containing materials. Congress “Environmental Health 2013”, 3/6-03-13 Boston (USA) (P).

Pugnaloni A., Lucarini G., Tomasetti M., Strafella E., Gualtieri A.F. (2013) raw and thermally treated cement asbestos exerts different cytotoxic effects and nitric oxide production in A549 cells. Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology, 119(1), supplement 158, 2014 (P).

Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri, N. Perchiazzi, A. Cavallo, A. Bloise (2015) Mineralogical characterization of mineral fibres. XXIII SILS Meeting, Trento (Italy) 8-10/07/2015 (P).

Bursi Gandolfi, S. Pollastri, A.F. Gualtieri (2015) Structural and physical-chemical variation of mineral fibres in histological tissues revealed by synchrotron X-ray diffraction and scanning electron microscopy. XXIII SILS Meeting, Trento (Italy) 8-10/07/2015 (P).

A.F. Gualtieri (2016) Towards a general model to predict the toxicity of mineral fibres? The perspective of the fibre. 11th International Particle Toxicity Conference, Singapore, 26-30 September 2016.


A.F. Gualtieri, S. Pollastri, N. Bursi Gandolfi, M. Lassinannti Gualtieri (2016) In vitro acellular dissolution of mineral fibres 11th International Particle Toxicity Conference, Singapore, 26-30 September 2016.


Comments are closed.