Carbon Nanotube Safety – Views from Inside VT KnowledgeWorks

Recent news about the safety of carbon nanotubes based on this study published in Nature Nanotechnology led me to e-mail Matthew Hull, CEO of NanoSafe, Inc., and Ben Lepene, CEO of Safe Nanomaterials–both member companies of high-tech business accelerator VT KnowledgeWorks–for help with understanding what it all means.

Matthew Hull, CEO of NanoSafe., Inc. replied:

The comparisons between nanotubes and asbestos have been made before, but this is the first study to show some scientifically-founded similarities.

These findings have major implications across the nanotech landscape including state and federal regulatory agencies, generators of nanoscale materials, and ultimately, consumers.

Producers of carbon nanotubes will need to make sure they can provide safe measures for employees handling these materials. State and federal agencies will need to take measures to ensure the materials are safe to consumers and the environment.

Anticipation of these types of questions and industry needs was what led us to found NanoSafe, Inc. We have resources to help companies, government agencies, and other stakeholders address these issues.

NanoSafe, Inc. helps organizations manage nanotechnology environmental health and safety (EHS) risks. It offers a full range of consulting, research, and testing services to clients throughout industry, state and federal government agencies, and university laboratories.

Ben Lepene, CEO of Safe Nanomaterials, replied:

This article does raise some additional concerns about the potential health impacts related to the incorporation of nano-enabled products, but I believe it is a step in the right direction.  Here are a few thoughts.

Carbon nanotubes and asbestos do have similar shapes and aspect ratio, but they are two different materials.  It is also important to understand that all nanotubes shouldn’t be put into one class.

Nanomaterials in general and nanotubes specifically can have many different shapes, sizes, surface chemistries, surface charges and biological activity that affects their toxicity and ability to cause inflammation and cellular damage.  Therefore it valuable for researchers and product developers to understand the structure activity relationships between materials and their ability to promote toxic responses.

I think it is also extremely critical for people to understand that carbon nanotubes and other nanomaterials can be safely incorporated into many products.  Since nanomaterials are not currently regulated by government agencies, the majority of the responsibility to ensure and communicate the safety of nano-enabled products is placed on companies developing and producing them.  Safe Nanomaterials helps these nanotechnology companies assess the potential health and environmental impacts of their specific materials, allowing them to make proactive and socially responsible decisions that minimize the potential risks to consumers and the environment. 

Safe Nanomaterials has also developed unique chemistries that dramatically reduce the toxicity pathways associated with nanomaterial exposure. These bio-inspired chemistries will allow nanotechnology companies to incorporate carbon nanotubes and other nanomaterials into their products while significantly lowering potential health risks.

Safe NanoMaterials provides proactive nanotoxicology services for the assessment and reduction of potential environmental and health impacts associated with engineered nanomaterials.

NanoSafe, Inc. and Safe Nanomaterials, Inc. are member companies of high-tech business accelerator VT KnowledgeWorks, located at the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia.

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