IoN response to CNTs letter in Nature Nanotechnology May 08

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PostPosted: Fri May 15, 2009 2:16 pm    Post subject: IoN response to CNTs letter in Nature Nanotechnology May 08 Reply with quote

‘Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study’

Response from the Institute of Nanotechnology to the above letter in Nature Nanotechnology, published online 20th May 2008.

The Institute of Nanotechnology welcomes this paper on the possible effects of inhaled carbon nanotubes, from the viewpoint that a profound understanding of risk enables its proper management, and through this, the benefits of new technologies relating to the use of carbon nanotubes to be realised.

It calls on all organisations who produce or use free nanotubes to ensure that their staff are trained to professionally manage any risk, so the promise of this wonder material can be safely fulfilled.

The Institute also calls on all product manufacturers to ensure that risks are addressed by the following specific measures:

- The life-cycles of products containing carbon nanotubes are properly studied and managed so that any potential risks to health or the environment are reduced to an acceptable level.

- Environmental, medical, and health and safety effects of carbon nanotube applications are systematically assessed prior to commercialisation.

- Worker protection is given a high priority, with worker involvement taking place in all aspects of risk assessment and management.

- Products containing engineered nanomaterials should be appropriately labelled to inform users and end consumers of any pertinent safety information


Carbon C60 was originally only known as a constituent of interstellar space debris, until a team of scientists, Robert Curl, Harry Kroto and Richard Smalley, discovered it could be synthesized in the laboratory, and then went on to decipher the arrangement of the atoms in this hitherto perplexing form of carbon. They called their new discovery ‘buckminster fullerene', after the designer of the geodesic dome (which could be considered a comparable macrostructure of the architectural world), R. Buckminster Fuller. For this work, they jointly received the Nobel Prize in 1996.

Further new forms of carbon belonging to this family of what is called ‘fullerenes' have been now been synthesized. Some of these are tubular, rather than cage-type forms, and are called carbon nanotubes. These nanotubes can be single- or multi-walled structures. As far as being able to extrapolate their properties from studies into these very small structures, it appears they offer a range of truly extraordinary properties which, taken together, exceed those of any material previously known, including spider silk.

Carbon nanotubes are currently mostly being produced in small quantities for research purposes, and several companies across the world are involved in their production, and also many laboratories in their synthesis for study purposes. In general, it is still difficult to control the length or purity of carbon nanotubes, and they still pose problems of scale-up and handling, so large scale industrial use is still some way off. However, scientists and industry are excited by carbon nanotubes because of the many potential applications they offer.

Some of the attributes of carbon nanotubes include elasticity, ultra-high tensile strength, light weight, high electrical conductivity, high heat conduction, and moderate resistivity. These attributes make them interesting for the development of new display technologies, the reinforcement of polymer structures for aerospace and automotive applications, interconnects for high speed IT applications, and a whole variety of gas and pressure sensors. The ability to fill the hollow interiors of the nanotubes with other atoms and molecules makes them applicable for the storage of hydrogen in fuel cells and potentially useful in drug delivery. Some research groups are spinning carbon nanotubes into yarns with a view to creating light and effective bullet proof vests or other garments that can withstand demanding environments, or to be used to monitor and transmit information on the health and well-being of a patient.

The Institute of Nanotechnology welcomes the recently-published work by Poland et al as an early attempt to quantify the hazard carbon nanotubes might pose if they are inhaled. Many of the proposed applications of carbon nanotubes will mean that they are fixed into a matrix whereby the risk of inhalation will be substantially minimised. Any risk is therefore mainly to individuals who are involved in the production of carbon nanotubes and the products they are incorporated into, and who may be exposed, if care is not taken, to inhalation of these ‘free' nanotubes. Products containing nanotubes will also have to be assessed before coming in to the marketplace for any risks that might occur at the end of the life cycle of the product, with the means put in place to manage those risks.

Standards for the production of carbon nanotubes, their characterisation, handling and labelling practices are expected to assist commercialisation as well as building confidence for managing potential risks. A range of technical specifications for carbon nanotubes are being developed by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) Technical Committee 229. The output will cover subjects such as measurements and their limitation, characterisation, and a format for reporting the content of products. The ISO Framework for Life Cycle Assessment (ISO 14040:2006) has been deemed suitable for nanomaterials and products enabled by nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes. In addition, the British Standards Institute (BSI) has laid down guidelines for safe handling and disposal of manufactured nanomaterials (PD 6699 -2: 2007). The scope of the guidelines covers all nanostructured materials and nanomaterials including carbon nanotubes, as specified in the publicly available specification (PAS 136).

A number of frameworks are being developed at national and international levels to mitigate and manage risks posed by nanomaterials such as carbon nanotubes. The International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) Framework for Nanotechnology is one prominent example. This defines methodologies for various aspects of pre-assessment, risk appraisals, risk evaluation and risk management for four generations of nanotechnology enabled products. The Innovation Society Ltd. (St. Gallen, Switzerland) and TÜV SÜD (Munich, Germany) have jointly developed CENARIOS ® - the first certifiable nanospecific risk management and monitoring system that is being used by companies in Europe. The system is expected to be implemented by a wide range of organisations. Among other notable initiatives are the Nano Risk framework developed by Environmental Defense in collaboration with DuPont, and N anoSURE TM methodology developed by Smith and Nephew.

Governmental organisations are aware of the potential risks posed by nanostructured materials and are applying the precautionary principle to ensure harm to human health and environment is minimised. As well as ongoing OECD work on test methods for meanufactured nanoparticles, the European Commission's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR) has suggested that a safety assessment for nanomaterials be carried out on a case-by-case basis. It has also recommended evaluating relevance of existing risk assessment methodologies for nanomaterials.

Specific funding is being increasingly directed to research on environment, health and safety (EHS) of nanomaterials. The collective funding in Europe for this purpose has been stated as €79 million by the Commission. This funding collectively represents research where primary goals are an assessment of EHS of nanomaterials. The National Nanotechnology Initiative in United States has allocated $76 million in 2009 for EHS research. This funding allocation has more than doubled in comparison to 2006.

In conclusion, human kind is good at managing risk, if we know and understand what that risk is, in order to maximise the benefits of a particular technology. Without this knowledge, we would have no fire, electricity, gas, air travel, cars, mobile phones, medicines or even kitchen knives. Carbon nanotubes have many potential applications, including offering new ways of treating and monitoring disease and, once we know how to handle and manage them and other nanomaterials safely, many advances of potentially great benefit to society will be possible.

In order to minimise any possible risk from nanotubes, it is essential that all organisations producing or using free nanotubes, and businesses incorporating them into their products, manage the risk associated with their handling of carbon nanotubes in a professional way. The Institute of Nanotechnology , in conjunction with the European Nanotechnology Trade Alliance, is offering training courses in Risk Management for organizations producing nanotubes or other engineered nanoparticles, to ensure that any risk to workers, the public or the environment is at an acceptable minimum.

Contact for further details.
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