Nanotubes are microscopically tiny cylinders of carbon that are used to manufacture light and strong materials. They are used in tennis racquets, golf clubs and bicycles, for instance. They were discovered in 1991 and researchers have been investigating their properties and potential dangers since then.

There is strong similarity to the tiny fibers of asbestos which were used decades ago in many household and construction materials. They became embedded in the lungs of people exposed to air containing them, as in asbestos mines, construction sites, plumbing work, drywall, etc.

Nothing happened for 30 or 40 years, but now many of those people have been developing asbestosis and mesothelioma, two fatal illnesses caused by the continued presence of asbestos fibers in the body. Now researchers are wondering if nanotubes might present a similar danger.

But this time, as Anthony Seaton has said, a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland: “…we’re forewarned and forearmed now with respect to nanotubes.”

Macrophages normally save the day

We breathe in all kinds of particles in the course of everyday living, and normally it is not a problem. Cells known as macrophages have the job of scavenging such particles, engulfing them, and carrying them away in the bloodstream for excretion.

But asbestos is a remarkable substance. It one of Earth’s elements, and is a fibrous mineral. It is fire resistant, it blocks sound, and it resists chemical change. No wonder it was used in so many products for a long time. It also resists macrophages; in fact, it destroys them, and they linger at that site, building up and forming tumors. That is why asbestos fibers have been able to remain in the lungs for so many years. They are too long for macrophages to deal with.

Study comparing asbestos fibers and nanotubes

By injecting mice with different lengths of nanotubes and dissecting them either the next day or a week later, researchers discovered that only the mice injected with long nanotubes developed lesions. Those with short nanotubes were not harmed. The study did not look at airborne nanotubes however, and further research is planned to determine how easily they could become airborne, and if they could become stuck in the lungs.

One suggested action for right now is altered labeling on products using nanotubes, to inform users of their presence. It is thought that nanotubes should be subject to the same rules and regulations that govern asbestos use.

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with asbestosis or mesothelioma, and are wondering if you might have any legal recourse, please call us or send an email, and we will set up a free consultation for you.