Carbon nanotubes as bad as asbestos, says study

May 21st, 2008 - 3:25 pm ICT by admin  

Washington, May 21(IANS) Long, thin carbon nanotubes might be as harmful as asbestos in the long run, if inhaled in sufficient quantities, according to a study. The study sought to evaluate whether carbon nanotubes - which have properties like asbestos - can cause mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung lining that take 30 years to manifest.

Widespread exposure to asbestos has been described as the worst occupational health disaster in US history and the cost of asbestos-related disease is expected to exceed $200 billion, according to major think tank RAND Corporation.

Asbestos fibres are harmful because they are thin enough to penetrate deep into the lungs, but sufficiently long to confound the lungs’ built-in clearance mechanisms for getting rid of particles.

Carbon nanotubes, which are as light as plastic and stronger than steel, are being developed for use in new drugs, energy-efficient batteries and futuristic electronics.

But questions have been raised about whether these products are safe, with possible hazards undermining their market in the long run.

“This study is exactly the kind of strategic, highly-focussed research needed to ensure the safe and responsible development of nanotechnology,” said Andrew Maynard, co-author of the study.

Findings of the study have been published in the latest issue of the journal Nature.

Though scientists have been raising concerns about the safety of long, thin carbon nanotubes, no recent research addressed this question.

The study, anchored by University of Edinburgh researchers, examined whether long and short carbon nanotubes, long and short asbestos fibres and carbon black cause pathological responses, known to be precursors of mesothelioma.

“The results were clear,” says Maynard. “Long, thin carbon nanotubes showed the same effects as long, thin asbestos fibres.”

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