An epidemiological and environmental study of the area around Biancavilla (CT, Italy) was prompted by a significant incidence of malignant pleural mesothelioma, which was not related to a specific occupational activity. An environmental dispersion of fibres was found and attributed to local quarry activities, whose extracted volcanic products also contained fibrous amphiboles and had been used extensively in the local building industry, especially in the period 1960–1970.
Abundant yellowish and grey-whitish asbestiform amphiboles with strongly asymmetric morphology were identified in this study, intimately associated with albitic feldspar, hematite and very minor orthopyroxene. These minerals fill the pores of the altered volcanic host rock (metasomatized benmoreitic lavas and pyroclastic rocks). The Rietveld method allowed a quantitative mineralogical analysis of the mineral mixture (24% amphiboles-asbestos, 73% feldspar and 3% hematite).
The crystal size and morphology of the grey-whitish amphibole fibres do not allow quantitative microprobe analyses; semi-quantitative EDS-SEM analyses of a prismatic mineral known to be fluoro-edenite and the unknown fibrous crystals studied here suggest that they are the same mineral, although the fibres are generally depleted in Ca and Mg. The F content is the same in both occurrences. Unit-cell parameters of the fibres are: a = 9.815(1), b = 17.992(3), c = 5.2733(6) Å, β = 104.547(9)°, V = 901.4(3) Å3, and the refractive indices are in the range 1.60–1.63. Optical, chemical and Rietveld analyses of the fibres confirm their similarity with the yellow prismatic fluoro-edenite previously analysed.
Biancavilla is the first occurrence of amphibole fibres in a volcanic context (the Etnean volcanic complex). These fibres have a very anomalous composition (high ANa, IVAl and O3F contents) in comparison to other known oncogenic minerals.