Nanotechnology linked to mesothelioma concern

21 May 2008 by under News, Research/Treatment

nanotube graphic 150x150 Nanotechnology linked to mesothelioma concernThe scientific journal Nature Nanotechnology published a report May 20 detailing the results of an early study that likens the effect of carbon nanotubes to asbestos when introduced into the body. Researchers injected mice with nanotube fibers and observed the same type of imbedding, irritation, inflamation and the creation of lesions called granulomas, which can lead to mesothelioma.

Nanotubes are tiny, cylindrical carbon molecules that, according to Wikipedia, exhibit extraordinary strength and unique electrical properties, and are efficient conductors of heat. They are already being used in sporting equipment like bicycle frames and tennis rackets due to their strength, and are thought to be the future of technology. They are used in some electronic components now, and are being researched to build tiny electronics and optics.

Researchers do not believe that materials containing carbon nanotubes are dangerous in and of themselves, in materials and products where they are safely encased, but are concerned about tiny nanotube fibers being released when those products are broken or incinerated. Also, they are concerned about workplace safety for nano factory workers.

The Washington Post reported that “preliminary evidence of cancer risk is strong enough to justify urgent follow-up tests and government guidance for nano factory workers.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is conducting nanotoxicology research, and, according to a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, already recommends people working with carbon nanotubes follow NIOSH guidelines for working with engineered nanomaterials. This includes using respirators and special filters to clean the air.

It is estimated that nanotubes will be a $2 billion industry within the next few years, and nanoparticle technology and production even more than that.

The Washington Post points out that there is already significant federal spending in place to support this industry, with the National Initiative providing about $1.5 billion a year for research. Only 5 percent of that fund is focused on health and safety.

While the carbon nanotube research is preliminary, its findings are significant enough to warrant real concern.

John M. Balbus, health program chief at the Environmental Defense Fund, made a prophetic statement to the Washington Post about the future of nanotechnology as it relates to public health. The paper quotes him as saying, “I think we are really coming to a critical juncture relating to transparency and stewardship. We will see whether various companies are going to be proactive and up front with people, and communicate openly in a way that inspires confidence and not repeat mistakes that other industries made in the past.”

One Response to “Nanotechnology linked to mesothelioma concern”

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