Two studies published in the past month have shown what many corporate-backed scientists said would never happen, but what most public health authorities have dreaded: the almost invisible world of nanotechnology can cause asbestos-like disease.
Today’s study, published in Nature Nanotechnolog, suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes � the very heart of most NT research – could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities, says Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies and a co-author of the paper.
Researchers, led by Professor Kenneth Donaldson at the University of Edinburgh, examined the potential for long and short carbon nanotubes, long and short asbestos fibers, and carbon black to cause pathological responses known to be precursors of mesothelioma, Maynard explained.
Material was injected into the abdominal cavity of mice — a sensitive predictor of long fiber response in the lung lining.
“The results were clear,” says Donaldson. “Long, thin carbon nanotubes showed the same effects as long, thin asbestos fibers.”
Asbestos fibers can penetrate so deeply into the lungs that lungs’ built-in clearance mechanisms for getting rid of particles is thwarted.
“This study . . .looks at a specific nanoscale material expected to have widespread commercial applications and asks specific questions about a specific health hazard,” said Maynard.
The Japanese study, published last month, showed a similar link to mesothelioma.
Public health advocates are increasing their efforts to get the government to be more responsive to the potential hazards accompanying nanotechnology. On May 2, I posted a report in a coalition of consumer, health, and environmental groups demanding that the EPA use its pesticide regulation authority to stop the sale of numerous consumer products now using nano-sized versions of silver, called nano-silver.
“This is a wakeup call for nanotechnology in general and carbon nanotubes in particular,” says Maynard. “As a society, we cannot afford not to exploit this incredible material, but neither can we afford to get it wrong–as we did with asbestos.”
For more information on nanotechnology, I again point you to the blog of Dr. Jennifer Sass, who has been studying the health effects of NT for years.