Carbon Nanotubes the Next Asbestos?


A new study anchored by the University of Edinburgh has declared that long, thin carbon nanotubes might be as harmful as asbestos in the long run, especially if inhaled in sufficient quantities.

According to an Associated Press article, the study evaluated whether the carbon nanotubes can cause mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer for which the only known current cause is exposure to asbestos. The properties of the nanotubes are very similar to those of asbestos and the material is currently being developed for use in new drugs, energy-efficient batteries and futuristic electronics.

However, scientists have begun questioning the safety of the carbon nanotubes and their widespread use. “This study is exactly the kind of strategic, highly-focused research needed to ensure the safe and responsible development of nanotechnology,” said Andrew Maynard, co-author of the study. He published his findings in the latest edition of Nature.

Specifically, the study examined whether long and short carbon nanotubes, long and short asbestos fibers 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 fibers.”

“So we’ve got one piece of the puzzle here,” Maynard added. “There are a couple of other pieces of the puzzle which still need to be filled in and those are asking whether exposure to this material actually will occur.”

“Whether people can breathe it in and if they do, whether these fibers can work their way to the outer edge of the lung and then cause an effect. But we knew that if those two things happened, there is a very strong change that the prolonged carbon nanotubes will eventually lead to this disease.”