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by Wendy Stackhouse · January 23, 2013

Nanotubes: Asbestos of the Future?

Green tubes Photo by christgr via stock.xchng

Asbestos has been used for hundreds of years and is still out there causing disease and disease risk for millions, but we are working to remove it safely and make it a danger of the past.

If you follow this blog, we recently told you about the possible dangers of fiberglass, the material that has been most often used to replace asbestos in many situations. Fiberglass has been around for a long time. If the dangers of exposure to it are as real as they may be, it could be the "new asbestos" of the 21st Century.

But there is a rapidly burgeoning industry that could someday cause the same kind of risk of illness in the future, if we don't think hard before we decide how to use it: Nanotechnology.

Nanotubes are defined as:

"sheets of carbon atoms rolled up into hollow tubes just a few nanometres in diameter. Engineered carbon nanotubes can be chemically modified, with the addition of chemotherapeutic drugs, fluorescent tags or nucleic acids – opening up applications in cancer and gene therapy...these chemically modified carbon nanotubes can pierce the cell membrane, acting as a kind of ‘nano-needle’, allowing the possibility of efficient transport of therapeutic and diagnostic agents directly into the cytoplasm of cells." --Design Products & Applications

At long lengths, nanotubes injected into mice produce similar disease reactions to those produced by asbestos fibers. The longest nanotube developed so far is over 7 millimeters long.

However, a new study has determined that there are chemical treatments for nanotubes that can make them both short enough and stable enough to mitigate the health risks.

At Alliance, we hope that the nanotechnology industry considers health concerns before putting their amazing products everywhere instead of after. After hasn't worked out so well.

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