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Nanotubes May Pose Health Risks Similar to Asbestos

  • In Study, Researchers Find Nanotubes May Pose Health Risks Similar to Asbestos
    By KENNETH CHANG
    The New York Times, May 21, 2008
    Straight to the Source

Nanotubes, one of the wonder materials of the new age of nanotechnology, may carry a health risk similar to that of asbestos, a wonder material of an earlier age that turned into a scourge after decades of use when its fibers were found to cause lung disease, researchers said Tuesday.

This time, the warning comes long before anyone has fallen ill, and experts say the findings call for caution, not alarm, in handling nanotubes, which are tiny, superstrong carbon fibers.

Although nanotubes are already found in some products, like tennis rackets, researchers say the fibers appear to pose little risk to consumers.

Nanotubes, discovered in 1991, are essentially rolled-up sheets of carbon that can be used to produce materials that are far lighter and stronger than steel, for example. But scientists have also long wondered whether the needle-shaped nanotubes might cause the same types of disease as needle-shaped asbestos fibers.

An article published Tuesday on the Web site of the journal Nature Nanotechnology suggests that the answer may be yes. A team of researchers reported that injecting nanotubes into the abdomens of mice induced lesions similar to those that appear on the outer lining of the lungs after the inhalation of asbestos.

In the case of asbestos, the lesions eventually become mesothelioma, a deadly cancer.

The researchers, though, portrayed their results as good news by providing people who work with nanotubes with knowledge of how to minimize the dangers.

"In a sense, we're forewarned and forearmed now with respect to nanotubes," said Anthony Seaton, a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

Full Story: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/science/21nano.html?_r=1&oref=slogin

 

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