Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times are running articles today highlighting a study reported in Nature Nanotechnology about the possible dangers of carbon nanotubes. These nano-scale structures, discovered in 1991, have potential for a massive number of industrial and commercial uses in the decades to come, but apparently come with some risks.
The researchers conducted a pilot study by injecting both long (20 micron) and short (5 micron) nanotubes into the abdominal cavities of mice. While the short nanotubes had little or no effect, the longer nanotubes caused lesions similar to those caused by asbestos, which the researchers believe would likewise cause mesothelioma, a form of cancer commonly caused by asbestos.
The results are preliminary, and the investigators point out that they did not study how easily nanotubes can become airborne or whether they become lodged in the lungs if inhaled. More research is needed into the harmfulness of nanotubes.