A series of 206 necropsies in Western Australia (WA) have had routine counts made of asbestos bodies in samples of lung tissue using conventional light microscopy. Thirty-two cases had worked in the asbestos industry at Wittenoom, WA and (log) counts of asbestos bodies in their lung tissue correlated well with estimates of their (log) cumulative airborne exposure to crocidolite fibers (r = 0.60). There was no association between the number of asbestos bodies and time since exposure to asbestos ceased. In subjects without known exposure to asbestos, there was a weak but nonsignificant increase in number of asbestos bodies with increasing age, with 26% of cases having no asbestos bodies present. It is concluded that the relatively simple technique of light microscopy for counting of asbestos bodies in lung tissue provides a reliable indication of the level of past occupational exposure to crocidolite in subjects whose exposure has been only to crocidolite. This could be extremely useful in follow-up studies of cohorts that lack reliable measures of airborne exposure to crocidolite asbestos. (C) 1995 Wiley-Liss, Inc.