UC Berkley Analysis Suggests Limiting Carbon Nanotube Exposure

While offering great promise in a host of new applications, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) could be harmful to humans and a new risk review suggests product designers and others should provisionally treat CNTs “as if” they are hazardous.

Carbon nanotubes are extremely small, with a diameter measured in nanometers. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, or about 180,000th the thickness of a human hair. CNTs are very versatile and come in several forms, conferring great strength while also being very light.

Because environmental and health information on CNTs is incomplete and sometimes conflicting, an “anticipatory governance” approach to the technology is needed, according to Mark Philbrick of the Center of Integrated Nanomechanical Systems at the University of California, Berkeley. Anticipatory governance is an approach designed to support decision makers where there is uncertainty about safety, a common situation when managing emerging technologies.

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and conclusions are detailed in Philbrick's article, “An Anticipatory Governance Approach to Carbon Nanotubes,” in the November issue of the journal Risk Analysis published by the Society for Risk Analysis. The entire issue is devoted to risk analysis articles related to nanotechnology.

An anticipatory approach is particularly important until the toxicity and behavior of CNTs in the environment are better understood, especially as they can remain airborne for extended periods, and share some characteristics with asbestos. While a few rodent studies have found similarities between the health effects of inhaling both substances, there is not enough data to draw firm conclusions.

The article notes the promise held out by CNTs is immense: some types conduct electricity and heat better than copper, others are stronger than steel while weighing less than aluminum, and yet others could be used in targeted drug delivery. These properties could find uses in aircraft frames, sensors, and electrical transmission. Nevertheless, treating them “as if” they are hazardous is a prudent course of action given uncertainty about their potential health consequences, the author said.

Given the “conflicted character of the data,” how “relevant actors” should respond is the central question Philbrick asks in developing strategies for utilizing CNTs. He asserts that treating carbon nanotubes “as if” they are hazardous implies limiting exposure throughout product life-cycles. This means implementing strong engineering controls for CNT research and manufacturing, avoiding applications where CNTs would be routinely released to the environment, and planning for recycling at the end of a product’s useful life. The article also argues, “The anticipatory governance approach is particularly important as innovation rates in nanotechnologies exceed our capacity to assess human and environmental consequences of these innovations, especially when deployed at commercial scales … it helps identify uncertainties in our knowledge and focuses future research to address those gaps.”

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Free Safety Management Software Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Management Software helps organizations to improve safety by providing a comprehensive toolset of software modules to help businesses identify trouble spots; reduce claims, lost days, OSHA fines; and more.

  • Get the Ultimate Guide to OSHA Recordkeeping

    When it comes to OSHA recordkeeping there are always questions regarding the requirements and in and outs. IndustrySafe is here to help. We put together this page with critical information to help answer your key questions about OSHA recordkeeping.

  • Safety Training 101

    When it comes to safety training, no matter the industry, there are always questions regarding requirements and certifications. We put together a guide that’s easy to digest so you can ensure you're complying with OSHA's training standards.

  • Conduct EHS Inspections and Audits

    Record and manage your organization’s inspection data with IndustrySafe’s Inspections module. IndustrySafe’s pre-built forms and checklists may be used as is, or can be customized to better suit the needs of your organization.

  • Track Key Safety Performance Indicators

    IndustrySafe’s Dashboard Module allows organizations to easily track safety KPIs and metrics. Gain increased visibility into your business’ operations and safety data.

  • Industry Safe
comments powered by Disqus