Carbon nanotubes are one of the leading-edge ingredients of the nanotech revolution. The tiny, cylindrical tubes made of a lattice of carbon atoms have potential as strengthening fillers in products such as tennis racket handles and brake pads. At a higher level, the tubes are being considered for use in electronic devices such as display screens or as ultra-small wiring in computer chips. Writing in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, however, a group of researchers waves a cautionary flag.
The team found that when injected into the body cavities of mice, long carbon nanotubes could behave in a way similar to the way asbestos fibers behave, forming lesions that, in the case of asbestos, lead to cancer. Shorter nanotubes did not seem to have the potentially dangerous effect, and it's not known whether the tubes can make their way to the mesothelium if inhaled. "This is of considerable importance, because research and business communities continue to invest heavily in carbon nanotubes for a wide range of products under the assumption that they are no more hazardous than graphite," wrote the scientists. In this segment, we'll talk about what is known about the potential health effects of these and other nanomaterials, and what steps should be taken now to prevent future asbestos-like environmental and health problems.
Produced by Charles Bergquist, Director and Contributing Producer