In vitro effects of coal fly ashes: hydroxyl radical generation, iron release, and DNA damage and toxicity in rat lung epithelial cells.

J.M.S. van Maanen, P.J.A. Borm*, A.M. Knaapen, M.H.M. van Herwijnen, P.A.E.L. Schilderman-Houba, K.R. Smith, A.E. Aust, M. Tomatis, B. Fubini

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.

Oxygen radical generation due to surface radicals, inflammation, and iron release has been suggested as the mechanism of adverse effects of quartz, such as emphysema, fibrosis, and carcinogenic effects. Therefore, we measured iron release, acellular generation of hydroxyl radicals, and oxidative DNA damage and cytotoxicity in rat lung epithelial (RLE) cells by different coal fly ashes (CFA) that contain both quartz and iron. Seven samples of CFA with different particle size and quartz content (up to 14.1%) were tested along with silica (alpha-quartz), ground coal, and coal mine dust (respirable) as positive control particles, and fine TiO(2) (anatase) as a negative control. Five test samples were pulverized fuel ashes (PFA), two samples were coal gasification (SCG) ashes (quartz content <0.1%), and one sample was a ground coal. No marked differences between SCG and PFA fly ashes were observed, and toxicity did not correlate with physicochemical characteristics or effect parameters. Stable surface radicals were only detected in the reference particles silica and coal mine dust, but not in CFA. On the other hand, hydroxyl radical generation by all fly ashes was observed in the presence of hydrogen peroxide, which was positively correlated with iron mobilization and inhibited by deferoxamine, but not correlated with iron or quartz content. Also a relationship between acellular hydroxyl radical generation and oxidative DNA damage in RLE cells by CFA was observed. Differences in hydroxyl radical generation and oxidative damage by the CFA were not related to iron and quartz content, but the respirable ashes (MAT023, 38, and 41) showed a very extensive level of hydroxyl radical generation in comparison to nonrespirable fly ashes and respirable references. This radical generation was clearly related to the iron mobilization from these particles. In conclusion, the mechanisms by which CFA and the positive references (silica, coal mine dust) affect rat lung epithelial cells seem to be different, and the data suggest that quartz in CFA does not act the same as quartz in silica or coal mine dust. On the other hand, the results indicate an important role for size and iron release in generation and subsequent effects of reactive oxygen species caused by CFA.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1123-1141
Number of pages19
JournalInhalation Toxicology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999


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