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Michael Phelan
Michael Phelan
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Nanotechnology: Are Carbon Nanotubes the Modern Asbestos?

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The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is concerned that the tiny nanoparticles used in nanotechnology pose serious health risks for workers employed in the nanotechnology industry. A study issued this week focuses on one type of nanomaterial,  carbon nanotubes, and seeks to determine if nanotubes biologically behave like asbestos. In other words, does inhaling carbon nanotubes cause irreparable and fatal effects to workers such as severe lung fibrosis or scarring, lung cancer, including cancer of the lining of the lungs or pleura called mesothelioma. Some animal studies have even shown effects similar to those of asbestos?

Carbon nanotubes are tiny, cylindrical, manufactured forms of carbon. There is no single type of carbon nanotube. Carbon nanotube exposures can potentially occur not only in the process of manufacturing them, but also at the point of incorporating these materials into polymer composites, medical nanoapplications, and electronics.

 The publication of the recent study contributed to the decision by the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to issue a notice which instructs those involved in the manufacture, repair and inspection of nanomaterials that the processes should be carried out under either sealed, unattended or automated conditions, or a local exhaust system should be installed.