The 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.
3) PRIN2017 20173X8WA4 FIBRES: A multidisciplinary mineralogical, crystal-chemical and biological project to amend the paradigm of toxicity and cancerogenicity of mineral fibres (2019-2021, 449k euro). Coordinatore Nazionale: prof. A.F. Gualtieri.

Recent papers:

308) Gualtieri, A.F. Bridging the gap between toxicity and carcinogenicity of mineral fibres by connecting the fibre crystal-chemical and physical parameters to the key characteristics of cancer. Current Research in Toxicology, 2021, 2, pp. 42–52.

309) Giacobbe, C., Di Giuseppe, D., Zoboli, A., Gualtieri M.L., Bonasoni P., Moliterni A., Corriero N., Altomare A., Wright, J., Gualtieri, A.F. Crystal structure determination of a lifelong biopersistent asbestos fibre using single-crystal synchrotron X-ray micro-diffraction. IUCrJ, 2021, 8, pp. 76–86.

310) Gualtieri, A.F., Zoboli, A., Filaferro, M., Benassi M., Scarfì S., Mirata S., Avallone R., Vitale G., Bailey M., Harper, M., Di Giuseppe, D. In vitro toxicity of fibrous glaucophane. Toxicology, 2021, 454, 152743.

311) Scognamiglio, V., Di Giuseppe, D., Gualtieri, M.L., Tomassetti, L., Gualtieri, A.F. A systematic study of the cryogenic milling of chrysotile asbestos. Applied Sciences (Switzerland), 2021, 11(11), 4826.

312) Pini, M., Scarpellini, S., Rosa, R., Neri, P., Gualtieri, A.F., Ferrari, A.M. Management of Asbestos Containing Materials: A Detailed LCA Comparison of Different Scenarios Comprising First Time Asbestos Characterization Factor Proposal. Environmental Science and Technology, 2021, 55(18), pp. 12672–12682.

313) Di Giuseppe, D., Zoboli, A., Nodari, L., Pasquali L., Sala O., Ballirano P., Malferrari D., Raneri S., Hanuskova, M., Gualtieri, A.F. Characterization and assessment of the potential toxicity/pathogenicity of Russian commercial chrysotile. American Mineralogist, 2021, 106(10), pp. 1606–1621.

314) Di Giuseppe, D., Perchiazzi, N., Brunelli, D., Giovanardi T., Nodari L., Della Ventura G., Malferrari D., Maia, M., Gualtieri, A.F. Occurrence and characterization of tremolite asbestos from the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Scientific Reports, 2021, 11(1), 6285.

315) Gualtieri, A.F., Leoncini, M., Rinaldi, L., Zoboli, A., Di Giuseppe, D. WebFPTI: A tool to predict the toxicity/pathogenicity of mineral fibres including asbestos. Earth Science Informatics, 2021, 14(4), pp. 2401–2409.

316) Di Giuseppe, D., Scognamiglio, V., Malferrari, D., Nodari L., Pasquali L., Gualtieri M.L., Scarfì S., Mirata S., Tessari U., Hanuskova, M., Gualtieri, A.F. Characterization of fibrous wollastonite NYAD G in view of its use as negative standard for in vitro toxicity tests. Minerals, 2021, 11(12), 1378.

317) Malferrari, D., Di Giuseppe, D., Scognamiglio, V., Gualtieri, A. F., Commercial brucite, a worldwide used raw material deemed safe, can be contaminated by asbestos. Periodico di Mineralogia, 2021, 90(3).

318) Gualtieri, A.F., Lassinantti Gualtieri, M., Scognamiglio, V. and Di Giuseppe, D., 2022. Human Health Hazards Associated with Asbestos in Building Materials. In Ecological and Health Effects of Building Materials, 2022, 297-325. Springer.

319) Giordani M., Mattioli M., Cangiotti M., Fattori A., Ottaviani M.F., Betti M., Ballirano P., Pacella A., Di Giuseppe D., Scognamiglio V., Hanuskova M., Gualtieri A.F. Characterisation of potentially toxic natural fibrous zeolites by means of electron paramagnetic resonance spectroscopy and morphological-mineralogical studies. Chemosphere, 2022, 133067.

Selected ORAL Congress Contributions

166) Giacobbe, C., Wright, J., Dejoie, C., Vigliaturo, R., Berruyer, C., Gualtieri, A.F. (2019) When diffraction meets tomography: the ferrierite case for the improvement of mineral fibres crystallographic characterization. Congresso AIC, Napoli, 4-7 Settembre 2019.

167) Gualtieri, A.F. (2019) Introduction to the global issue of Naturally Occurring Asbestos (NOA). The 2nd EMU (European Mineralogical Union) school on mineral fibres – Casale Monferrato (Alessandria, Italy) – September 9-13, 2019.

168) Gualtieri, A.F. (2019) FPTI: a general model to predict the toxicity of mineral. The 2nd EMU (European Mineralogical Union) school on mineral fibres – Casale Monferrato (Alessandria, Italy) – September 9-13, 2019.

169) Gualtieri, A.F. (2019) L’amianto. Workshop “Cancerogeni nell’edilizia”, Dipartimento di Scienze Chimiche e Geologiche, UNIMORE, 13 Dicembre 2019.

170) Gualtieri, A.F., Lusvardi G., Ligabue M.L., Malferrari D. (2020) Stato dell’arte del progetto KRYAS: sviluppi e nuove applicazioni nell’ottica dell’economia circolare. Workshop Materie prime per piastrelle ceramiche. Sassuolo (MO), 20 Febbraio 2020.

171) Gualtieri, A.F., Di Giuseppe D. (2020) Fibrous ferrierite from Lovelock, Nevada (USA). IAEG NOA-EMP Online Symposium, May 13-14, 2020.


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).



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.