According to a collaborative study conducted by the United States Geological Survey and the University of Missouri, carbon nanotubes can be harmful to aquatic organisms.
Since carbon nanotubes enter into large-scale production, the researchers advise the implementation of necessary safety measures to avoid the discharge of the nanomaterials into the environment. Carbon nanotubes are used as a reinforcing agent in composite materials and show promise in applications ranging from construction to electronics and medicine.
Professor Baolin Deng, Chair of chemical engineering at the University of Missouri, stated that it is essential to balance the great potential of carbon nanotubes with caution and preparation. Adequate information is not available about their impact on human health and the environment. Regulatory groups like the Environmental Protection Agency need more analyses like this collaborative study to provide insights into the safety of carbon nanotubes.
Carbon nanotubes are not pure carbon and contain metals such as chromium and nickel utilized in the production process as impurities. In the study, Deng and colleagues discovered that carbon nanotubes and their impurities were able to hinder the growth rates or even destroy some aquatic species. They studied four species, namely crustaceans (Hyalella azteca), worms (Lumbriculus variegatus), small flies' larvae (Chironomus dilutus) and mussels (Villosa iris).
Hao Li, Associate Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at University of Missouri, stated that the use of carbon nanotubes in composite material production is one of the major possibilities of polluting the environment by the nanomaterials. Better handling and waste management measures can reduce this risk. Moreover, it is important to understand the after effects of deterioration of these composite materials to control long-term risks.
The study findings appeared in the Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry journal.