May 27 at 4:04pm by Aileen
ScienceNews reported last week that research on mice suggests these new fullerene-based wonder-fibers may be as dangerous as asbestos in the environment. The study showed that multi-walled (rigid) nanotube fibers longer than 15 micrometers cannot be removed from sensitive organic tissues by microphages, and that this causes inflammation that could lead to asbestos-like diseases including mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer.
The study was published in the May 20 online edition of Nature Nanotechnology, and according to the Washington Post serves as a preliminary warning that there may be serious issues with the technology that warrant very careful planning to protect industrial workers, the public and the environment as nanotube fibers become more common in consumer and industrial products.
Companies around the world produce thousands of tons of nanomaterials a year, not all of them in the form that poses the threat identified by these researchers. Nanotubes alone are expected to become a multi-billion dollar industry within the next few years. While the government pumps about $1.5 billion a year into R&D for nanotechnology, only about 5 percent of that goes into health and safety concerns.
It would be quite refreshing if, for a change, we incorporated the lessons of history as we develop this promising new technology to forestall issues related to health, safety and environmental pollution before they become just more grim statistics attached to greed over due caution. And for this reason the situation bears watching to see if identified areas of concern are simply denied and swept under a profit rug, or rationally dealt with as if humans could accept responsibility – and minimize risks – per the less than hopeful side-effects of our intelligent designs.