Comparing toxicity of dusts with and without carbon nanotubes
The JRC contributed to a groundbreaking study carried out by scientists from various European Research Institutions to understand the impact of carbon nanotubes (CNT) present in dusts on human health.
Although production of nano-materials is rapidly increasing, our knowledge about the possible health effects associated with these materials is still rather limited. While thousands of scientific papers have been published on the toxicological properties of nanomaterials, only a very small number of these deal with nanomaterials in the form emitted from products under conditions similar to those that actually occur in use. Therefore, through the European FP7 project "NanoSustain" a consortium of leading European research institutions addressed data gaps relating to the toxicity of dusts generated by mechanical abrasion of carbon nanotube (CNT) epoxy composites.
When CNTs are incorporated in epoxy resins to form nanocomposites, improved properties, such as increased strength combined with reduced weight of the product, are obtained. During processing of these nanocomposites by sanding or sawing the CNTs may be released either as free nanomaterials or embedded in particles of the matrix. The results of the toxicology tests indicated that the dusts from epoxy containing CNTs caused no increase in pulmonary inflammation or DNA damage compared to dusts from the same material without. However dusts from epoxy containing CNTs did induce hepatic inflammation and necrosis that was not present in the case of dusts from the pure epoxy alone but that were similar to the response following exposure to the same CNTs in the absence of the epoxy matrix. These results represent an important step forward in understanding the health risks of nanomaterials in consumer products under conditions of everyday use.