When does the medical monitoring start?
It's not much of an exaggeration that carbon nanotubes could turn our sci-fi fantasies into reality. They weigh very little and are as strong as a diamond. Their potential is limitless, both in application and in profitability. How about a car that's twice as strong as an SUV but weighs half as much as a compact? Or lightweight body armor superior to anything made today? Or a safe way to target cancer cells for drug delivery? Only time will tell if they turn out to be the miraculous material they appear to be.
There was another substance once hailed as miraculous: asbestos. We know now that in addition to its useful properties, asbestos causes asbestosis and mesothelioma. And now a study has shown that carbon nanotubes may carry some of the same risk:
Here's a scientific study with legal implication for business: "Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study." Published last week in the journal, "Nature Nanotechnology," the report prompted a rash of news coverage, which from what we've seemed, carried a reasonable sense of balance, caution and caveats.
The basic finding was that long carbon nanotubes -- in contrast to the short or curly ones -- created conditions in mice abdomen that resembled lesions that lead to mesothelioma in humans.
Prominently featured in all was the study's coauthor, Andrew Maynard, a physicist and chief science adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. In The New York Times, Maynard said, "I think there is clear evidence for caution in how they are used and handled." He told The Los Angeles Times that the greatest danger was to workers involved in the manufacturing of nanotubes who might inhale the dust. ....
NPR's "Science Friday" carried a 24-minute segment on the study, again, pretty balanced. But several of the callers displayed the kind of uncertainty and anxiety that can produce a cultural and political environment that invites litigation. The thought kept recurring: When do the suits start?
The wave of asbestos litigation occurred because a group of evil men - and I don't use the word lightly - decided to conceal the fact that asbestos causes mesothelioma from their workers. They made the conscious decision to let thousands upon thousands of workers die of cancer rather than implement necessary safety procedures or discontinue the use of asbestos in their factories. Rather than worrying about when the lawsuits will begin, why not worry about the health of the workers who had been exposed to long nanotubes without proper protection? Why not wonder when nanotube manufacturers will begin a medical monitoring program for those workers who may have breathed in carbon nanotube dust?