For the first time, it is shown that inhaled ambient air-dust particles settled in the human lower respiratory tract induce lung calcification. Chemical and mineral compositions of pulmonary calcium precipitates in the lung right lower-lobe (RLL) tissues of 12 individuals who lived in the Upper Silesia conurbation in Poland and who had died from causes not related to a lung disorder were determined by transmission and scanning electron microscopy. Whereas calcium salts in lungs are usually reported as phosphates, calcium salts precipitated in the studied RLL tissue were almost exclusively carbonates, specifically Mg-calcite and calcite. These constituted 37% of the 1652 mineral particles examined. Mg-calcite predominated in the submicrometer size range, with a MgCO3
content up to 50 mol %. Magnesium plays a significant role in lung mineralization, a fact so far overlooked. The calcium phosphate (hydroxyapatite) content in the studied RLL tissue was negligible. The predominance of carbonates is explained by the increased CO2
fugacity in the RLL. Carbonates enveloped inhaled mineral-dust particles, including uranium-bearing oxides, quartz, aluminosilicates, and metal sulfides. Three possible pathways for the carbonates precipitation on the dust particles are postulated: (1) precipitation of amorphous calcium carbonate (ACC), followed by its transformation to calcite; (2) precipitation of Mg-ACC, followed by its transformation to Mg-calcite; (3) precipitation of Mg-free ACC, causing a localized relative enrichment in Mg ions and subsequent heterogeneous nucleation and crystal growth of Mg-calcite. The actual number of inhaled dust particles may be significantly greater than was observed because of the masking effect of the carbonate coatings. There is no simple correlation between smoking habit and lung calcification.
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