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Occupational Nanosafety Considerations for Carbon Nanotubes and Carbon Nanofibers

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National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia, United States
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
*Corresponding author. Mailing address: NIOSH, 1095 Willowdale Road Morgantown, WV 26505. Phone: 304-285-6032 Fax: 304-285-5938. E-mail: [email protected]
Cite this: Acc. Chem. Res. 2013, 46, 3, 642–649
Publication Date (Web):December 5, 2012
Copyright © This article not subject to U.S. Copyright. Published 2012 by the American Chemical Society

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    Abstract Image

    Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are carbon atoms arranged in a crystalline graphene lattice with a tubular morphology. CNTs exhibit high tensile strength, possess unique electrical properties, are durable, and can be functionalized. These properties allow applications as structural materials, in electronics, as heating elements, in batteries, in the production of stain-resistant fabric, for bone grafting and dental implants, and for targeted drug delivery. Carbon nanofibers (CNFs) are strong, flexible fibers that are currently used to produce composite materials.

    Agitation can lead to aerosolized CNTs and CNFs, and peak airborne particulate concentrations are associated with workplace activities such as weighing, transferring, mixing, blending, or sonication. Most airborne CNTs or CNFs found in workplaces are loose agglomerates of micrometer diameter. However, due to their low density, they linger in workplace air for a considerable time, and a large fraction of these structures are respirable.

    In rat and mouse models, pulmonary exposure to single-walled carbon nanotubes (SWCNTs), multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs), or CNFs causes the following pulmonary reactions: acute pulmonary inflammation and injury, rapid and persistent formation of granulomatous lesions at deposition sites of large CNT agglomerates, and rapid and progressive alveolar interstitial fibrosis at deposition sites of more dispersed CNT or CNF structures.

    Pulmonary exposure to SWCNTs can induce oxidant stress in aortic tissue and increases plaque formation in an atherosclerotic mouse model. Pulmonary exposure to MWCNTs depresses the ability of coronary arterioles to respond to dilators. These cardiovascular effects may result from neurogenic signals from sensory irritant receptors in the lung. Pulmonary exposure to MWCNTs also upregulates mRNA for inflammatory mediators in selected brain regions, and pulmonary exposure to SWCNTs upregulates the baroreceptor reflex. In addition, pulmonary exposure to MWCNTs may induce levels of inflammatory mediators in the blood, which may affect the cardiovascular system.

    Intraperitoneal instillation of MWCNTs in mice has been associated with abdominal mesothelioma. MWCNTs deposited in the distal alveoli can migrate to the intrapleural space, and MWCNTs injected in the intrapleural space can cause lesions at the parietal pleura. However, further studies are required to determine whether pulmonary exposure to MWCNTs can induce pleural lesions or mesothelioma.

    In light of the anticipated growth in the production and use of CNTs and CNFs, worker exposure is possible. Because pulmonary exposure to CNTs and CNFs causes inflammatory and fibrotic reactions in the rodent lung, adverse health effects in workers represent a concern. NIOSH has conducted a risk assessment using available animal exposure–response data and is developing a recommended exposure limit for CNTs and CNFs.

    Evidence indicates that engineering controls and personal protective equipment can significantly decrease workplace exposure to CNTs and CNFs. Considering the available data on health risks, it appears prudent to develop prevention strategies to minimize workplace exposure. These strategies would include engineering controls (enclosure, exhaust ventilation), worker training, administrative controls, implementation of good handling practices, and the use of personal protective equipment (such as respirators) when necessary. NIOSH has published a document containing recommendations for the safe handling of nanomaterials.

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