Azara Blog: One study claims carbon nanotubes could cause health problems

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Date published: 2008/05/20

The BBC says:

Carbon nanotubes, the poster child of the burgeoning nanotechnology industry, could trigger diseases similar to those caused by asbestos, a study suggests.

Specific lengths of the tiny fibres were found to cause "asbestos-like" inflammation and lesions in mice.
The nanotubes show certain superficial similarities to other fibres, such as asbestos, which are known to cause harm and diseases including cancers.

"For a fibre to be harmful, it has to be thin, long and insoluble in the lung," explained Dr Ken Donaldson, one of the authors of the paper published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Nanotubes' thinness and toughness are well established, so the researchers set out to examine the effect of their length.

In a series of experiments, the researchers injected different lengths of multi-walled nanotubes - which comprise two to 50 concentric cylinders - into the abdomen of mice.
The researchers looked in particular at a membrane that forms the lining of body cavities, such as the chest and the abdomen, called the mesothelium. The lining around the lungs is known to be prone to the cancer mesothelioma after exposure to asbestos.

"What we found was that the long nanotubes were pathogenic - they caused inflammation and scar formation. The short nanotubes were not," said Dr Donaldson.

"The problem seems to be that the cells that usually deal with particles can't deal with a long, straight shape."
However, the researchers said the link between long, straight, multi-walled carbon nanotubes and cancers was not proven.

"We are a long way from saying that any form of carbon nanotubes causes mesothelioma," said Dr Donaldson.

Interesting as far as it goes, but it doesn't really prove anything. Unfortunately the anti-technology zealots (e.g. almost all so-called environmentalists) will jump on this report as a reason to stop the world when it comes to nano-technology.

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