High-tech, microscopic nanotubes, which are being manufactured for use in a variety of consumer products such as electronic components and sporting goods, have been found to cause the same damage to a body as asbestos, according to a study in mice. Within days of the nanotubes being injected into the mice, a cellular reaction was triggered that over a period of years, typically leads to mesothelioma, the fatal form of cancer also caused by asbestos. This discovery comes at a crucial time in the science, business and regulation of nanotechnology, which is believed to be a $2 billion industry in the next few years, by raising concern from an array of people, including workplace safety experts.
The study found only long versions of the vanishingly small fibers have the toxic effect. Further studies must be conducted to prove that the fibers might cause problems when inhaled, the way most people would be exposed to them. It needs to be determined whether the doses used in the study reflect realistic conditions since they were injected rather than inhaled. The preliminary findings of the study have shown the cancer risk to be so high that urgent follow-up tests are justified. Government guidance for nano factory workers is also warranted. Others are also calling for labels to guide consumers or recyclers, who might encounter the potentially hazardous material when disposing of discarded nano products.
The materials are being regulated on the basis of what they are made of, such as carbon, when they should be regulated on the basis of their size since that aspect is what is causing health and environmental risks. The amount of government funding is also going more into supporting the fledgling industry than studying environmental and health impacts of nanomaterials. This issue will become a focus for Congress as it prepares to reauthorize the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which has been pumping about $1.5 billion in funding annually to research, with only about five percent of that dedicated directly to health and safety. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/20/AR2008052001331.html