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Originally published September 16 2008

Carbon Nanotubes May Pose Asbestos-Like Threat to Human Health

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Touted as miracle ingredients that will revolutionize electronics, chemistry and materials science, carbon nanotubes may pose as great a threat to the human body as asbestos, according to a study published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Carbon nanotubes are artificially created, tiny molecules that are very strong and resilient. They are already in use in products including bicycle handlebars, baseball bats and tennis rackets, but just how prevalent their use is in these or other products remains unknown because companies are not required to disclose the information.

Because nanotube fibers are similar in certain ways to asbestos, researchers decided to determine if they have similar effects on the bodies of mice. The researchers injected either asbestos, carbon nanotubes of varying lengths, or normal flat carbon sheets into the abdomens of mice. They found that just like asbestos, long carbon nanotubes cause inflammation and scarring in the lining of the lungs and stomach.

"For a fiber to be harmful, it has to be thin, long and insoluble in the lung," researcher Dr. Ken Donaldson said. "What we found was that the long nanotubes were pathogenic - they caused inflammation and scar formation."

Researchers and health advocates called for a more cautious approach in introducing nanotechnologies, and for more transparency by manufacturers.

"These sorts of materials need to be handled very carefully," said study co-author Dr. Anthony Seaton, who has treated people harmed by asbestos. "The Health and Safety executive in the UK needs to take appropriate measures to ensure that people are not being exposed to these things in the air."

In addition to workers in manufacturing plants, other people might be at risk, warned Dr Andrew Maynard the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC.

"What happens if you demolish products, or you throw products into landfill sites or incinerate the products? Is there a chance of carbon nanotubes coming out then and exposure occurring?" he asked. "We simply don't know the answer to that and I think it's something that needs to be addressed."

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