Background: Asbestos bodies (AB) in BAL cells are specific markers of asbestos exposure.
Methods: We retrospectively reviewed BAL cytocentrifuge slides of 30 utility workers with a history of asbestos exposure and 30 normal volunteers. BAL cytocentrifuge slides were blinded and scanned under 40 × light microscope.
Results: AB were found more frequently in subjects with a history of asbestos exposure compared to normal volunteers (10 of 30 subjects, 33%, vs 0 of 30 subjects). The mean number of AB seen in the AB-positive group was 2.7 per slide. Demographic data were comparable including age, gender, and smoking. Exposure histories were also similar: duration > 20 years, onset > 30 years ago, and time since last exposure > 7 years. More AB-positive patients reported respiratory symptoms (70% vs 26%, p < 0.05). High-resolution CT scans of AB-positive patients revealed a higher prevalence of parenchymal disease (70% vs 26%, p < 0.05). AB-positive subjects had reduced pulmonary function compared to AB-negative subjects: FVC (86% vs 97% predicted), FEV1 (77% vs 92% predicted, p < 0.05), and diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (76% vs 104% predicted, p < 0.01).
Conclusion: In individuals with a history of asbestos exposure, the presence of AB in BAL cells is associated with higher prevalence of parenchymal abnormalities, respiratory symptoms, and reduced pulmonary function.