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Biotech Science

Nanotubes "As Deadly as Asbestos" 180

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the hack-cough-weeze dept.
Stony Stevenson writes "Certain carbon nanotubes may be as hazardous to humans as asbestos. A paper to be published in Nature Nanotechnology suggests that inhaling certain types of nanotubes can lead to the formation of mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. "This is a wakeup call for nanotechnology in general and carbon nanotubes in particular," said Andrew Maynard, co-author of the report and chief science adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies." I'm really hoping that those medical face masks get popular again. That's a look that should really be cyclic, like bell-bottoms and thongs. Update: 05/21 19:18 GMT by T : See also this page at the Nanotechnology Project, which features a link to video commentary from Andrew Maynard, the researcher mentioned in the above-linked article.
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Nanotubes "As Deadly as Asbestos"

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  • Report at 11.... (Score:5, Informative)

    by y86 (111726) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:38AM (#23491654)
    Breathing solids into lungs which are supposed to process gases is a bad thing. More at 11.
    • by Notquitecajun (1073646) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:40AM (#23491700)
      The effective word there is "breathing." There's TONS of asbestos out there that needs to be left well enough alone (unless it degrades). Removing it may put more of it in the air than leaving it alone ever would.
      • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:57AM (#23491918) Journal
        It's still an environmental hazard. Better to know that this is an issue with nanotubes, so we can take early precautions and keep this from being like asbestos; a perfectly useful substance that was demonized because it was deployed poorly, and hurt a lot of people.

        • I'm not going to downplay the chances of it being a hazard, but this story is very one-sided.

          See the AP version [google.com] for, in my opinion, a longer and less biased review.
      • by Bryansix (761547)
        But the point is that it IS a hazard when removed so sometimes it is better to just remove it safely then for someone to forget it's there and then the building eventually gets demolished and a whole shit storm of it is introduced into the near environment.
        • Re:Report at 11.... (Score:5, Informative)

          by ukemike (956477) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @12:23PM (#23494794) Homepage
          It is illegal to demolish a building anywhere in the US without first conducting a "thorough inspection for the presence of asbestos." In most places you cannot get a demo permit without showing proof that the inspection was done. Many states only allow certified people to conduct the surveys.

          SatanicPuppy is right. In a well maintained building it is usually better to leave it in place and manage the asbestos materials than to remove the materials for no reason. But that is not the same as ignoring the issue. If you're gonna safely manage asbestos-containing materials (ACM) then you have to know where they are. The worst thing you can do is say, "we're gonna leave well enough alone" then "lets knock down this wall, which may or may not contain asbestos, to make this office bigger."

          I am an asbestos consultant, and I have surveyed hundreds of buildings. Only a tiny handful had no asbestos in them Even brand new buildings usually have some asbestos in them.

          I always get a good laugh when someone tells me, "oh well we had the popcorn ceiling tested and this building is asbestos free." Here is a short and far from complete list of materials that frequently contain asbestos:
          joint compound/taping mud on sheetrock
          texture coats on sheetrock
          plaster, esp acoustical plaster
          vinyl floor tiles
          linoleum
          adhesives of all sorts
          roofing
          roofing patching material
          pipe insulation
          duct insulation
          duct tape
          transite
          acoustical ceiling tiles
          'popcorn' or 'cottage cheese' ceiling
          fireproofing
          fire door cores
          exterior paint

          Actually if it isn't wood, glass, ceramic, metal, or plastic then it is suspect. If it is one of those there is a decent chance that it is glued on with ACM adhesive.
          • by Thaelon (250687)
            You forgot to tag it with IAAAC (I Am An Asbestos Consultant).
      • Indeed. A friend of mine is buying a house with asbestos floorboards in the basement: health inspector essentially says under no circumstances should they try to remove it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by davidsyes (765062)
        That might explain why san fransideshow will continue to have blight-raggedy-assed buildings in existence, with innards just plastered and sealed up to "look" new, but not be new. Sounds like reinforcing superfund/toxic sites to me.

        But, at least for seniors and some low-income people, there are NEW habitats build where some older buildings have been torn down or which burned down and toxics removals was a non-issue. Short of raggedy-shit burning down, it might be relatively impossible for some of the more i
    • by SatanicPuppy (611928) * <Satanicpuppy@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:51AM (#23491854) Journal
      Not sure why this is a troll. This has been one of the probable issues with carbon nanotubes since day 1, and now there is evidence suggesting that yes, actually, it is an issue.

      Anyone who is genuinely surprised should seriously evaluate their "New tech never has downsides" prejudice. When we refuse to acknowledge issues like this early, we end up confirming the paranoia of the anti-tech people, and making ourselves look like jackasses.
      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @11:50AM (#23494358)
        But what does it have to do with *tech*? Or nanotubes? I mean, breathing in ordinary silica or quartz -- one of the most common natural materials on the surface of the planet -- causes silicosis [wikipedia.org]. Therefore, it doesn't matter if you are breathing rock dust in a quarry or breathing something manufactured, such as fiberglass: it's bad for you. Breathing dust of *any* type into the lungs is demonstrably harmful, and can lead to chronic and debilitating diseases. In that respect, how are nanotubes any more harmful than other common natural or artificial materials?

        Then there is the exaggeration of asbestos danger. "As deadly as asbestos"? In most situations, so what? Asbestos is deadly if you work in a mine or manufacturing plant for asbestos products and you are exposed to it in the air in LARGE quantities every day for YEARS. Otherwise the risk is really no worse than for any other common type of particulate and the technical solution for heavy exposure is simple: wear protective gear so you aren't breathing the stuff in, and make sure it doesn't escape into the surrounding environment.

        If it is sitting in a product minding its own business (i.e. not being mechanically ground up and suspended in the air when it is in use) the risk is zero. It's not like the stuff is irradiating the surrounding area with "asbestos rays" or something.

        Of course there can be a downside to tech, but there's a downside to ordinary natural materials when humans use them in ways the human body can't handle. Check out the DHMO website [dhmo.org] for example.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by pepeperes (731972)
          Silicon is especially dangerous because its atomic structure is similar to carbon, and it can "pollute" lungs' chemicals, substituting carbon. Then trouble begins because lungs don't work well, they kinda turn to stone.
        • Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis?
        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Hubbell (850646)
          I'm a carpenter (albeit 20 years old and only an apprentice) but I can tell you that fiberglass is worse for you than almost anything else in the construction industry. The only reason it's still legal is cause they have nothing else to replace it with.
      • by dbIII (701233) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @05:55PM (#23498600)
        I should point out this was one of the things considered frequently since back when it was called surface chemistry and not nanotechnology. I doubt that anyone working in this feild would be unaware of the potential problems. With asbestos you have the situation where something that is effectively chemically inert in the body kills people due to it's shape and size. A lot of care has been taken with "whiskers" and other similar particles since then.

        You do however still get idiots that argue that things are perfectly safe even decades after they have been found to be a major problem - which is why I've seen that asbestos sparkles prettily in the wind when I worked near such an idiot. The stuff appears to be perfectly safe if you don't breath it in. However it is such a menace since it breaks into particles that are light enough to drift on the wind, get into your lungs, never get out and irritate tissue until that portion of lung is dead. Carbon nanotubes are also likely to get stuck - hence the care taken since day 1.

    • Actually... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DrYak (748999) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:33AM (#23492394) Homepage

      Breathing solids into lungs which are supposed to process gases
      Lung are designed to be able to process most solids, mainly being able to destroy and remove small foreign solids (dust and a-like) that may pose problem (The bigger solids are coughed out so they don't end up inside the lungs - they pose problem, but higher up in the ventilation pathway).

      The problem is when said micro particle are supposed to be indestructible (an attribute shared by both asbestos and nanotubes). You got a constant activity of the immune system, which never manage to actually destroy the intruders. Only white cells die and newer cells come trying to clean up the mess, in an endless cycle.

      This inflammation over-activity is what leads to the cancers.

      But besides, there's nothing incredible there. If one creates a new material that is supposed to be indestructible, there are bound to be problems - both environmental and health - due to that fact that, yes, indeed, the material can't be destroy / got rid of.
      • Re:Actually... (Score:5, Informative)

        by stevelinton (4044) <sal@dcs.st-and.ac.uk> on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:39AM (#23492450) Homepage

        Lung are designed to be able to process most solids, mainly being able to destroy and remove small foreign solids (dust and a-like) that may pose problem (The bigger solids are coughed out so they don't end up inside the lungs - they pose problem, but higher up in the ventilation pathway).

        The problem is when said micro particle are supposed to be indestructible (an attribute shared by both asbestos and nanotubes).
        Another problem is shape. The system is designed to process round solids, not very long thin ones.
        • Re:Actually... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Corporate Troll (537873) * on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @10:49AM (#23493464) Homepage Journal
          Mod up... Asbestosis [wikipedia.org] is best described to the layman as "small needles" destroying the lungs.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by avandesande (143899)
            How about Byssinosis [wikipedia.org] or lung disease caused by cotton fibers? We still use cotton textiles though.
            My point is that any small particulate (look up silicosis) does not belong in the lungs. Nanotubes will most likely be encapsulated in some kind of epoxy matrix which would entail little or no hazard.
            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by TheLink (130905)
              Looking at the NIH link on that page, it seems like it's not as bad as asbestos:

              "Symptoms usually improve after stopping exposure to the dust. Continued exposure can lead to damaged lung function. In the U.S., worker's compensation may be available to people with byssinosis".
        • The problem is when said micro particle are supposed to be indestructible (an attribute shared by both asbestos and nanotubes).

          Another problem is shape. The system is designed to process round solids, not very long thin ones.


          Which brings up an Issue I've wondered about a lot...

          Why isn't fiberglass insulation just as much of a problem as asbestos? Or IS it as much of a problem but not yet recognized as such?

          And while we're at it: Is the level of risk from asbestos exaggerated?

          There's reason to believe tha
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Dun Malg (230075)

            Why isn't fiberglass insulation just as much of a problem as asbestos?

            Glass fibers in insulation are much larger. You can actually see them if you look closely with the naked eye, whereas asbestos fibers are microscopic.

            And while we're at it: Is the level of risk from asbestos exaggerated?

            Yes. Reasonable caution is definitely warranted around asbestos, but treating it like they do, as if it were some deadly neurotoxin, is ridiculous. People freak out when they hear their kids' school has asbestos in the attic, but think nothing of driving down the freeway with the windows down, sucking in the asbestos from various brake pad and brake lining p

      • Another poster has mentioned it in context of cigarette filters, but it bears repeating that fiberglass poses a similar risk to asbestos and apparently nanotubes. As with asbestos, the risk is when it's in a fine fiber form that can float in the air and be inhaled. The type of fiberglass insulation that comes in thick rolls for loft/attic insulation is probably not too much risk (at least for breathing - you still want to wear gloves to stop the fibers from sticking into your skin and itching like hell), bu
        • When it comes to nanotubes, what is more effective as a filter - a mask or a cigarette filter? In analogy to the derivation of electrical resistance, a long path has more resistance than a path with a large surface area, so a cigarette filter is a better filter.

          Maybe the recyclable look is Darth Vader. Tin foil hats, gas masks, and chain mail on runway models will start this ball rolling off the good old slippery slope.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ukemike (956477)
            It is most likely that P100 HEPA filter respirators are appropriate for managing exposure to airborne nanotubes. P100 HEPA filters are designed to filter 99.97% of particles larger than 0.3 microns. There is substantial evidence that asbestos fibers smaller than this are not a risk factor for cancer. It's probably a similar story for nanotubes. Incidentally those dust masks are useless for asbestos and are probably useless for nanoparticles in general.
        • by ukemike (956477)
          The difference between fiberglass fibers and asbestos fibers is 1-2 orders of magnitude in diameter and length. This puts the glass fibers into the size range of particles that our lungs are more capable of handling.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by camg188 (932324)
          Fiberglass does not cause mesothelioma. Currently the only know cause of mesothelioma is asbestos. Fiberglass fibers are thick enough that your lungs can eventually expel them, but they can damage your lungs in large volumes by clogging and cutting tissue. Fiberglass will not split into thinner fibers like asbestos does. The thickness of the fiberglass fibers also keeps them from getting deep into lungs.
    • Yeah, I think my summer of breathing heavy metals while operating a grinder may come back to bite me in the but.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kingrames (858416)
      It brings attention to the idea that "grey sky" is just as deadly as "grey goo."

      It means that any nanobot capable of self-reproducing is a planet-destroying threat.
  • Not to mention the made for adsense spammers.
    • Nano-intertubes are lethal because the slow bit rate causes frustration which causes 'net rage among porn customers.

      Giga-intertubes and Tera-intertubes are lethal for a different reason, namely, the sheer weight of adsense spammers compresses the customer's body into the density of a black hole or at least that of a neutron star.
  • Nanotubes (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    frank shoemaker would call this noise
  • by oodaloop (1229816) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:43AM (#23491740)
    From TFA:

    "Short or curly carbon nanotubes did not behave like asbestos and, by knowing the possible dangers of long, thin carbon nanotubes, we can work to control them," he said. "This is good news, as it shows that carbon nanotubes and their products could be made to be safe."

    Thank god I can keep up my habit of snorting curly nanotubes.
  • by ZonkerWilliam (953437) * on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:43AM (#23491752) Journal
    Here's the Journal [nature.com] entry and an additional article from NewScientist [newscientist.com] stating, and I quote;

    James Bonner at the North Carolina State University, Raleigh, US, will shortly publish one of the first such studies. He says the results suggest that nanotubes do not persist long enough to cause damage. In his experiments, mice breathed air containing 40-micrometer-long multi-walled nanotubes. "Very little inflammatory or fibrogenic effect was observed," he says. Donaldson notes that determining the true risks of nanotubes will involve measuring the ways in which people will be exposed to them, something studies on toxicity cannot judge. There is little evidence about exposure so far, says Donaldson. "But the good news is that nanotubes are probably not very 'dirty'," he says. "They are quite highly charged and stick together, so they don't seem to get airborne easily."
    So there's probably nothing to be concerned about. Just got to love the %^$#@# media, for putting a spin on things.
    • by the_humeister (922869) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:02AM (#23491960)
      The problem is that mice don't live very long, 3 years at most. Epidemiological studies over decades have shown the association of asbestos to both lung cancer and mesothelioma. So conceivably we may not know until decades later unless we get a proper mouse model for cancer production with carbon nanotubes (if it causes cancer...).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ZonkerWilliam (953437) *
        Still there has to be something with what James Bonner stated, that the mice showed mesothelioma when injected, but not when they breathed shows that there is more to whats happening and needs further study.

        I just wouldn't be jumping the gun with how dangerous it is until further studies are done.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by twiddlingbits (707452)
        Not to mention these mice are genetically predisposed to develop cancer. These strains in the lab are not nearly as diverse genetically as humans. If 90% of mice get something that does not mean 90% or even 9% of humans would get the same disease or problems. Scientists try to accomodate for the shorter mice lifetime by increasing the dose of the suspect cancinogen. I always thought that was not too a reasonable trade. Higher doses can cause different problems than a low dose over time. of course as someon
      • by ukemike (956477)
        Correct. The onset of symptoms from lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis does not occur immediately after exposure. There is a latency period of 15-40 years from the onset of exposure until the appearance of symptoms. Hopefully we don't introduce enormous quantities of carcinogenic nano stuff into the environment and workplace only to discover decades later that it hurts us.
    • for this industry. The door has been opened to litigation. Meaning the products will all soon contain a "lawsuit tax" embedded into them. The choice of item they associated nano tubes with is nothing short of inflammatory. Asbestos? The live of lawyers everywhere.

      no, all they had to do is find some group with some respectability to push stuff out like this. Even if it gets disproved in years the lawsuit opportunities have just expanded.
      • by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:51AM (#23492618)
        So

        * If they are one particular kind of nanotube

        * and they are not highly charged (their normal state)

        * and they are made airbourne (which they normally arn't)

        * and someone breathes this in (unlikely in many applications)

        then they may have an increased possibility of lung cancer .... ... or they could just go outside and breathe some diesel fumes?

        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          Well, asbestos isn't normally airborne or inhaled, either, until someone knocks down a wall containing it with a sledgehammer or scrape off their textured ceiling.

          You can't just rely on it's "normal" state for safety, that just doesn't work. However, that's okay, because now that we have some idea of the dangers of nanotubes, we can use that knowledge to avoid them. We can use different types of nanotubes where possible, we can use binding materials that will make it less likely they become airborne, and
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ukemike (956477)
        One of the biggest reasons that asbestos has proved to be fertile ground for lawsuits is because the negative health effects have been know for about 100 years now, and corporations still used it in large quantities through the 1970s. That demonstrates a certain recklessness. "We're willing to risk your health for our profits."

        I work in the asbestos business, and I can tell you that enforcement of asbestos regulations is REALLY lax. The main item that drives employers to follow OSHA regulations and pr
      • by Joey Vegetables (686525) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @11:56AM (#23494464) Journal

        The choice of asbestos as a comparison is more than an appeal to emotion; it's actually fairly valid. Both substances appear much the same way to a mammalian tissue, both affect the immune systems in a similar way, and both tend to be very long-lived once inside the lungs. True, this does mean we will have to be VERY careful with this stuff. But better to know that now, rather than decades later, after it is too late.

  • by JeanBaptiste (537955) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:46AM (#23491786)
    I'm really hoping that those medical face masks get popular again

    uh, where does CmdrTaco live that medical face masks were once a popular fashion item? I certainly don't remember that fad. Bell bottoms, I do unfortunately remember, but not medical face masks...
    • by querist (97166) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:13AM (#23492106) Homepage
      I don't know where Commander Taco lives (or Subcommander Taco, either), but I know that those face masks are quite common in many Asian countries for at least two purposes.

      1. to protect others from your cold, etc.

      2. to protect yourself from smog in large cities, such as Beijing.

      I've been to Beijing, and those masks were quite necessary. :-( I like Beijing other than the smog.
      • by ukemike (956477) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @11:36AM (#23494168) Homepage
        Face masks are less effective than tinfoil hats at filtering smog. They are useless for filtering CO, O3, NOx, PM10 particles, or diesel particles, which are the dangerous elements of smog. Facemasks are designed to keep really big dust particles like sawdust out of your lungs. They are also designed to keep spittle from falling into body during surgery. They are NOT gases or fine particles.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tantalus (466821)
          Facemasks are largely effective in preventing many infections, though, mainly because they limit the amount that people touch their faces. Germ transmission is cut down significantly if hands are kept away from the skin and orifices of the face.
    • Ummm, remember SARS?
    • Avenue, that is. In a little green plastic house with his pewter car parked on the square.
  • by camperdave (969942) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:50AM (#23491830) Journal
    That's a look that should really be cyclic like bell-bottoms and thongs.

    There are some people who should never be seen cycling in thongs.
  • Face Masks? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WarlockD (623872) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:50AM (#23491836)
    I'm really hoping that those medical face masks get popular again. That's a look that should really be cyclic like bell-bottoms and thongs.

    You need full Respirator gear if you want to stop nano-tubes from getting in your lungs. Even then, with it being so small, your only chance of stop those tubes is if they are even long enough to get caught in the filter.

    Thank GOD people have taken the initiative [patentstorm.us] and developing [newscientist.com] nanotube filters. [technologyreview.com]
  • Big surprise (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RobinH (124750) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @08:57AM (#23491912) Homepage
    The first thing I thought when companies started selling carbon nanotubes for research was that we had no idea how toxic this stuff could be. The most obvious question was what would it do to your lungs when inhaled. Not a big surprise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by barzok (26681)
      Some people have been concerned about this for a while. Boeing is still trying to decide if they're going to test the 787 wings to the point of total structural failure because they're concerned about the amount of carbon fiber dust in the air resulting from breaking the wings. They don't want to have to clean all that up.
  • by chromozone (847904) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:11AM (#23492092)
    I am jaded enough to think there are lawyers happy to see studies like this. I know some people who worked with asbestos a long time did get legitimately ill, but it was sad to see how false and exaggerated claims of illness were used to make money and ruin businesses. The extent of ploy might be suggested in the tort reform that took place in Texas:

    "Why Doctors Are Heading for Texas"

    "In sum, these reforms have worked wonders. There are about 85,000 asbestos plaintiffs in Texas. Under the old system, each would be advancing in the courts. But in the four years since the creation of MDLs, only 300 plaintiffs' cases have been certified ready for trial. And in each case the plaintiff is almost certainly sick with mesothelioma or cancer.

    No one else claiming "asbestosis" has yet filed a pulmonology report showing diminished lung capacity. This means that only one-third of 1% of all those people who have filed suit claiming they were sick with asbestosis have actually had a qualified and impartial doctor agree that they have an asbestos-caused illness."

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121097874071799863.html?mod=googlenews_wsj [wsj.com]

    It's wise to be careful with nanotube technology of course - and also to be careful with studies that give the legal types excuses to plunder.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by GrifterCC (673360)
      For every WSJ article trumpeting the apparent success of the latest "free market except when we don't like it because it hurts rich people" program, there's another side to the story.

      "Venue shopping" doesn't mean finding jurisdictions that will take your "frivolous" case (quoted from TFA). It means finding the best court for your client. And jurisdiction statutes keep you from filing your case anywhere you want. If the court's county (or city or district) doesn't have a logical relationship with the inju
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lershac (240419)
        Yeah, but the problem is not with the righteous lawsuits... its with the frivolous ones. Own a business for a bit and find out how there are legions of people actively looking for opportunities to sue you and tap your insurance policy.

        I witness this from two angles:

        1. I owned Brick and Mortar establishment, and slip and fall lawsuits are just a plague. I closed up shop because of the hassle and now only work on the customer site or take their equipment back to our shop.

        2. Many of my clients are PI attorn
    • Actually the big reason that lawyers sue over mesothelioma cases is because the only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos, so if a person has mesothelioma then the case is half proven, the lawyer then only has to prove who exposed the sick person to asbestos. Lung cancer isn't as useful. The defense only has to show that the sick person smoked 10 cigarettes 20 years ago and the lawsuit is undermined to the point of uselessness. If nanotubes cause mesothelioma and become widespread it is likely to make
    • These changes are great if you're a doctor; not so much if you're a patient they mangled.

      That confrontation fizzled, however, and before long Texas succeeded at enacting two simple but effective reforms. One capped medical malpractice awards for noneconomic damages at $250,000, changed the burden of proof for claiming injury for emergency room care from simple negligence to "willful and wanton neglect," and required that an independent medical expert file a report in support of the claimant.

      Even a negligent
  • by anmida (1276756) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:18AM (#23492166)
    The situation with nanomaterials is the same as the situation with radioactive materials when that field was new. Having worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory, I can say that there used to be practices that were normal that are now regulated to hell, with respect to materials handling, dust generation/cleanliness, etc. Currently, I work somewhere else, and I work with nanomaterials all day long - and when I say nano, I mean powders with individual particles of about 5-20 nm diameter. All the personal protective equipment I usually don is nitrile gloves and safety goggles, and try to work with the material under a fume hood. We try to have safe work practices, but I have the feeling that in 40 years regulations will make you do all your work with them in gloveboxes/cleanrooms/respirators.
    • We try to have safe work practices, but I have the feeling that in 40 years regulations will make you do all your work with them in gloveboxes/cleanrooms/respirators.

      I'm reminded of an autobiographical novel I read some years back by an author describing her childhood in Texas. She told of how her family lived in a little subdivision where the kids would spend their hot summers bored out of their minds. For fun, and to try and cool down, they would ride their bicycles barefoot in the rain racing after the
  • Long thin nanotubes, of course, are the ones that have the greatest potential for making superstrong construction materials.

    Neal Stephenson's Diamond Age had the health hazards of "toner" ... the dust and debris of worn out nanotech ... as a major theme. Nano-tight plastics and filters, collectively called "nanobar" (which seemed to be a generic term, not a brand name) were all over the place.

    Welcome to the Diamond Age, don't forget your respirator.
  • Now we know why everything with carbon fiber in it has to be transparent. It's so you can check those nanotubes are staying right in there. It's not about showing off, it's a safety feature!
  • Duh? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BCW2 (168187) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:29AM (#23492324) Journal
    This is no different than breathing any fiber into the lungs. Everyone harps on asbestos but cotton is just as bad. That was one of the weird things about smoking, in the 70's they found that people smoking non-filters lived 5 years longer than the ones smoking filter cigarettes. Why, the fiberglass filter. The fiber got into the lungs. So they changed to cotton and got the same results. Ever hear of white lung disease? People who worked in cotton gins sure did. Any fiber or particulate in the lungs will cause scaring at best, enough of that is called emphysema.

    Be careful what you breath.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by BattleApple (956701)
      Cigarette filters aren't (and never were) made of fiberglass. And I doubt much, if any, of the filter gets inhaled. However, Wikipedia says that Kent used asbestos in their filters in the 50's
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette_filter#Manufacture [wikipedia.org]
      • by BCW2 (168187)
        Several brands had fiberglass in their filters in the 50's and 60's. It was a blend with cotton. Taryton was one I saw. They used to get the cotton for filters free by cleaning the dust filters at cotton gins.
    • by TeknoHog (164938)

      Ever hear of white lung disease?

      Being a teacher, I'll probably have to deal with it sooner or later...

  • that slows down progress and makes us scrap perfectly good solutions to age-old problems. Asbestos has been banned, and yet studies commissioned by the asbestos council have repeatedly shown that it is beer consumption by asbestos workers that have resulted in the phenomenon known as "flub lung".

    Don't be fooled!! In latest studies by the carbon purveyors league, it has been shown that recent outbreaks of "fidgety-digits", or shaking hands syndrome have been related to the detergent used in bar glasses locat
  • Man.. (Score:3, Funny)

    by scubamage (727538) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @09:38AM (#23492442)
    Those buckyballs and nanotubes, what can't they do!? I mean, they don't just fight cancer. They can cause cancer too!
  • I thought there was and extremely powerful multiplier effect between silicosis&asbestosis and smoking or other lung tar. Essentially that the tar prevented/slowed the lungs from clearing the particulate matter so it causes much (25x?) greater damage. Sorry, I don't have a reference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ukemike (956477)
      This is true. Nicotine is a potent paralyzing chemical. It paralyzes the cillia which are the tiny hairs that move the mucus lining of the lungs up and out. The cillia and mucus are the lung's system for self cleaning. Nicotine shuts that process down leaving asbestos, and potentially nanotubes, in the lungs longer giving them more chance to cause injury or cancer. Luckily smoking is much less common around here than it used to be.

      Jon Q. Nonsmoker-noasbestos chance of getting lung cancer = X
      Bill X.
  • by Bryansix (761547) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @11:23AM (#23493946) Homepage
    The problem is in short carbon nanotubes. If they can finally figure out how to make them longer we won't have the health problems and maybe I can ride a Space Elevator in my lifetime.
  • by MythoBeast (54294) on Wednesday May 21, 2008 @11:26AM (#23493990) Homepage Journal
    I'm certain that free-floating carbon nanotubes inhaled are a problem. They might even be a serious skin irritant, and that should be considered. Comparing it to the hazards of asbestos, however, doesn't really fly, and here's why.

    Asbestos is a fiber that is most dangerous when used in insulation or as part of an ablative surface like a brake pad. In the first case, it is specifically being manufactured into a loosely bound form so that it maximizes the number of small air pockets in between. In the second case, it is constantly being worn away by its designed use, resulting in small particles of it completely covering every surface near it.

    Carbon nanotubes are being used for their structural strength or conductivity. Their value is derived largely from how tightly it can stay bound to the rest of the structure that it is part of. As a result, there are no imaginable use cases where more than negligible free-floating nanotubes would exist in an environment.

    This is not to say that this isn't useful information. Although a USE case for nanotubes doesn't exist, there are definitely cases where conditions do exist for the particles to become airborne. Any time you use a subtractive process (buzz saws, lasers, water cutters, whatever) to shape nanotubes then you'll get particulates that need to be managed. Similarly, we should know better than to use nanotubes to build any type of strike plate. They probably wouldn't handle that kind of stress well anyway. Their MIGHT be a danger in high-vibration environments, but generally a thin coating would deal with that.

    In any case, it's useful that a profit-centric organization will be informed that NOT taking precautions can be more expensive than the precautions, and this is always valuable. They can't say "but we didn't know!"
  • It's nice that this is finally getting published someplace it's going to get noticed. Talk at the conferences for years has been that multi-walled nanotubes kill mice if you inject them into the lungs (I actually met a guy who had done this experiment in Germany 5 years ago, and I don't think he was the first). For whatever reason, no one outside of the nanotube community had paid attention to those experiments, probably because they were done by physical scientists and not someone connected to the medica
  • Technically, this means anybody, especially electricians, who have been around an electric spark, or arc, can file suit for mesothelioma. Seeing as how nanotubes can be formed from sparks and arcing, thid opens up a figurative buffet for Ambulance Chasers, a.k.a. personal injury lawyers.

    Slimebags, notably James Sokolove, are going to be all over this like a pack of dogs on a three-legged cat.

    As much as I am for knowing the effects of certain substances and such, I wish researchers would keep this stuff unde

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