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J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2010;73(5):378-95. doi: 10.1080/15287390903486527.

Single- and multi-wall carbon nanotubes versus asbestos: are the carbon nanotubes a new health risk to humans?

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  • 1Health Effects Laboratory Division, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Morgantown, West Virginia, USA.


Carbon nanotubes (CNT), since their discovery, have become one of the most promising nanomaterials in many industrial and biomedical applications. Due to their unique physicochemical properties, interest is growing in the manufacture of CNT-based products and their subsequent marketing. Since their discovery, the prospect of possible undesirable human health effects has been a focus of many scientific studies. Although CNT possess unique physical properties that include (1) nanoscale diameter, (2) a wide length distribution ranging from tens of nanometers to several micrometers, and (3) high aspect ratio, the fibrous-like shape and durability suggest that their toxic properties may be analogous to those observed with other fibrous particles, such as asbestos. The present study provides a summary of published findings on CNT bioactivity, such as the potential of CNT, especially of multi-wall carbon nanotubes (MWCNT), to activate signaling pathways modulating transcription factor activity, induce apoptosis, induce DNA damage, and initiate biological responses. Assessment of risks to human health and adoption of appropriate exposure controls is critical for the safe and successful introduction of CNT -based products for future applications.

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