Safe Work Australia publishes report on carbon nanotubes
Friday, 13 May 2011 15:18

Safe Work Australia Chair, Mr Tom Phillips AM, announced the release of a research report: Durability of carbon nanotubes and their potential to cause inflammation.

safe_work_ken_STThe structural similarities of some forms of carbon nanotubes with asbestos has raised concerns about possible health effects for humans.

This study examined the durability of carbon nanotubes and the tendency to cause lung inflammation, two indicators of potential asbestos-like behavior, if inhaled.

Commissioned under the Nanotechnology Work Health and Safety Program and funded by the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom (UK) and the UK Institute of Occupational Medicine undertook this experimental research.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Some types of carbon nanotubes can be durable, but others may also break down in simulated lung fluid.
  • carbon nanotubes of certain length and aspect ratio can induce asbestos-like responses in mice, confirming previous findings. However, this response may be reduced if the nanotubes are less durable.
  • tightly agglomerated particle-like bundles of carbon nanotubes did not cause an inflammatory response in mice.

Shorter carbon nanotubes or bundles of carbon nanotubes may not be an asbestos-like hazard, but they can still cause an inflammatory response and be hazardous in the lungs.

"This project is an excellent example of Australia and the United Kingdom collaborating to undertake world class work health and safety research", said Mr Phillips.

"These results indicate that durability and hazards of all types of carbon nanotubes are not necessarily the same. However carbon nanotubes should be handled with high levels of caution in the workplace to avoid inhalation.

Safe Work Australia continues to support research on carbon nanotubes to further the knowledge of work health and safety issues, and has commissioned other work which uses the research findings to protect workers.

Image: Courtesy of CSIRO