Study Says Carbon Nanotubes as Dangerous as Asbestos by Larry Greenemeier | May 20, 2008

Inhaling carbon nanotubes could be as harmful as breathing in asbestos, and its use should be regulated lest it lead to the same cancer and breathing problems that prompted a ban on the use of asbestos as insulation in buildings, according a new study posted online today by Nature Nanotechnology.

During the study, led by the Queen’s Medical Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh/MRC Center for Inflammation Research (CIR) in Scotland, scientists observed that long, thin carbon nanotubes look and behave like asbestos fibers, which have been shown to cause mesothelioma , a deadly cancer of the membrane lining the body’s internal organs (in particular the lungs) that can take 30 to 40 years to appear following exposure. Asbestos fibers are especially harmful, because they are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs yet too long for the body’s immune system to destroy.

The researchers reached their conclusions after they exposed lab mice to needle-thin nanotubes: The inside lining of the animals’ body cavities became inflamed and formed lesions.

Carbon nanotubes are generally made from sheets of graphite no thicker than an atom—about a nanometer, or one billionth of a meter wide—and formed into cylinders, with the diameter varying from a few nanometers up to tens of nanometers. (They can be hundreds or even thousands of nanometers long.) There is a greater concern about “multiwalled” nanotubes consisting of several reinforced cylinders, because they are able to retain their pointy shapes better than thinner nanotubes.

Scientists have been noting the similarities between carbon nanotubes and asbestos for the past few years, says study co-author Andrew Maynard, chief science advisor for the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars’s Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, based in Washington, D.C. Maynard, who has been researching and warning of the potential health and environmental risks of carbon nanotubes since 2003, says that there has been no coordinated effort to date to analyze the findings of carbon nanotube toxicity studies. He notes that technology companies have not found that the risks of using carbon nanotubes outweigh the benefits—they are excellent conductors of electricity.

Carbon nanotubes can also be used to reinforce polymers to create very strong plastics. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor researchers are scaling the strength of nanosheets and a nanoscale polymer resembling white glue. Visually, it looks like a brick wall, in which clay nanosheet “bricks” are held together by water-soluble polyvinyl alcohol “mortar”. The result, according to the researchers, is a composite plastic that is light and transparent but as strong as steel.

IBM has identified carbon nanotubes as important for studying electrical and optical phenomena on the nanometer scale, and the company has high hopes for the technology. Carbon nanotubes show promise as building blocks for computer chips that are “smaller, faster and lower power” than those made of silicon, Phaedon Avouris, an IBM fellow and lead researcher on the company’s carbon nanotube efforts, wrote in the March 2007 issue of Physics World. “One of the most exciting developments in carbon nanotube research is the recent discovery that nanotubes can emit light,” he added. “That finding opens the door to circuits in which standard copper interconnects are replaced by optical waveguides made from nanotubes—allowing the possibility of fully integrated optoelectronic circuits.”

Nanotubes are likewise being developed for use in new drugs, energy-efficient batteries, electronics and other products under the assumption that they are no more dangerous than graphite. But some scientists and environmentalists like Maynard caution that they harbor hidden dangers. Compounding this concern is the prediction that the market for carbon nanotubes will grow from $6 million in 2004 to more than $1 billion by 2014, according to studies by a number of firms, including the Freedonia Group. A 2006 report from Lux Research projected that nanoscale technologies will be used in $2.6 trillion worth of manufactured goods by the year 2014.

The Edinburgh CIR study, which will also appear in the June issue of Nature Nanotechnology, was very specific, looking only at nanotubes that emulated fiber behavior and their potential to cause a certain type of cancer; other types of nanotubes could affect the body differently—for better or worse, researchers say.

Maynard and his colleagues focused their attention specifically on the hypothesis that long, thin carbon nanotubes could have the same impact as similarly shaped asbestos fibers. “If you get these things into the lungs,” he says, “they form scarlike tissue, and the body sees them like a scaffolding, building new cells over them and thickening the walls of the lungs.”

The study is not intended to keep nanotechnology from developing further but rather to flag potential dangers of nanotubes in places at manufacturing and disposal sites, the researchers wrote in their paper.

“There is an immediate need to examine how carbon nanotubes are being used and see if there’s any chance that [people] are being exposed to dangerous materials,” Maynard says, adding that no one paid attention to the dangers of asbestos until it was too late for a lot of people.


The Lake Effect by Nancy Nichols

By the time the PCB problem was isolated in January 1976, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency believed that Outboard Marine was delivering approximately nine to ten tons of PCBs to the harbor each day. The PCB content of the sludge at the bottom of the harbor ranged from 240,000 to 500,000 parts per million depending on when and where the sample was taken. That means that either one in two or one in four grains of sand or silt at the bottom of the harbor was not actually sand or silt, but was a PCB instead. page 43

Waukegan would take its turn on the national stage two years later, in 1984,when a U.S. Environmental Protection official, Rita Lavelle, was accused of secretly meeting with lakefront polluters in an effort to strike a cleanup deal that heavily favored industry… In the aftermath of the scandal, the full extent of Waukegan’s chemical contamination was revealed… Eventually, three separate Superfund sites, named after the 1980 federal legislation that allocated funds to clean them up, were designated in Waukegan. Two of the sites are adjacent to the lake… In addition, more than a dozen other sites form what federal and state regulators call an expanded study area, which stretches along the lakefront from one end of town to the other. These smaller sites contain the waste products from a tannery, a steel company, a paint factory, a pharmaceutical company, and a scrap yard. Together these sites contain not just PCBs, but an alphabet soup of pollutants. “Just about every chemical we know to be dangerous to human health is in one of those sites,” Says Margaret Quinn, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, who specializes in human exposure assessment. In addition to PCBs, these chemicals include benzene and other volatile organic compounds, arsenic. lead, asbestos, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, vinyl chloride, and ammonia. Various chemicals among these have been associated with reproductive diseases, learning and attention deficits in children, birth defects, immune system deficiencies, and some forms of cancer.

Was there a relationship between my sister’s cancer and the toxins of our childhood? My sister certainly thought so. And many other people have suspected, often correctly, that elements in their environment have had an effect on their health. Yet because of the long time it takes for a cancer to develop and because of relative mobility of our lives today, it can be challenging to establish a casual link between a disease and its origin.

pages 5 -6

“Ovaries are approximately three centimeters long by one and one-half centimeters wide by one centimeter thick,” writes Ethel Sloan in, “The Biology of Women.”… Whichever edition you consult will tell you that the ovary is about the size of an almond and that it produces the female hormone estrogen. During the monthly menstrual cycle, each ovary forces an egg through a wall of tissue and afterward repairs that rupture in a process called ovulation. “The ovary is no beauty,” writes Natalie Angier in “Woman: An Intimate Geography, “It is scarred and pitted, for each cycle of ovulation leaves behind a blemish where an egg follicle has been emptied of its contents. The older the woman, the more scarred her ovaries will be. It is this continual bursting and repairing–part and parcel of the ovarian life cycle–that makes the ovary vulnerable to cancer.

Scientists have long theorized that as cells multiply each month to repair the breach in the ovarian wall, more opportunities are created for mistakes in the DNA copying process, which in turn increases the chances of a malignant mutation. More ovulations, in other words, mean more chances for mistakes.

Risk factors for the disease therefore include never giving your ovaries a break by being pregnant or having a child. The other risk factor is having a close relative with the disease. That would be my sister, of course, and that would bring our story back home….

Doctors at this hospital and elsewhere have long speculated that there were significant environmental factors associated with ovarian cancer. The vagina provides a runway to the ovaries not simply for sperm but for many other substances as well. Significantly, women who have their tubes tied experience a lower rate of ovarian cancer than those who do not. Some have theorized that this may be because the pathways to the ovaries has been blocked, keeping outside agents at bay.

For example, some researchers have found a link between talcum powder and ovarian cancer–though several other studies have produced conflicting results. Some early forms of talcum may have contained asbestos and thus given researchers their positive findings. Indeed, at least one retrospective study found a much higher disease rate among women who used talc prior to 1960 than those who used is after–giving at least some credence to the idea that the use of asbestos-laden talc increases a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer.

My sister speculated that asbestos had contributed to her illness. A group of naturally occurring fibrous materials that are fire-resistant, asbestos has been thought to cause adverse health effects since the first century. Yet, as writer Paul Brodeur tells us in his book on asbestos, Outrageous Misconduct, its role in causing the disease asbestosis, a noncancerous condition in which the lungs scar so badly that they won’t expand and contract properly, was not well established in medical literature until the 1970s.

In the years before my sister died, when I was an editor for the Harvard Business Review, I worked on a piece written by Bill Sells, the man who had run the Johns-Manville plants in Waukegan in the early 1970s–a time when deaths from asbestosis and other asbestos-related diseases were beginning to occur in the workforce at an alarming rate. After noting that his job included the unenviable task of visiting his sick and dying employees at the local hospital, he offered this description of his first visit to the factory: “The plant lay at the back of a sprawling complex built in the 1920s. Its view of Lake Michigan was obscured by a landfill several stories high. A road wound through this mountain of asbestos-laden scrap, and as I drove through it for the first time I stopped to watch a bulldozer crush a 36-inch sewer pipe. A cloud of dust swirled around my car.” Inside the plant, he said, he found “asbestos-laden dust coating almost every visible surface.”

An EPA official charged with overseeing the cleanup of the Johns-Manville plant, Brad Bradley, has a similar recollection. Standing at the edge of the 350-acre Superfund site that overlooks Lake Michigan, Bradley recalled his first visit there in 1982. He remembers asking an asbestos expert where he thought they would find the fibers. “I think they are everywhere,” said the expert. Indeed, virtually anywhere on the site that Bradley scuffed the ground with his boot, he found the telltale fibers.

People are more likely to connect the fiber with asbestosis than with ovarian cancer. However, a thirty-year study of nearly two thousand women who worked with asbestos while manufacturing gas masks during World War II showed these women to be seven times more likely to die from ovarian cancer than a control group. My sister’s medical history seems to tell a different story, though, and the link between asbestos and ovarian cancer in general does not appear to be a strong one. The ovarian cancer specialist I saw at the clinic was quick to point out that my sister’s record indicated that her cancer was preceded by endometriosis.

The phrase “painful periods” does not begin to describe the torture that my mother and sister endured during menstruation. White and sweating, doubled over with pain, they retreated to the bed or the couch until the pain and the bleeding passed. When I recounted my mother’s experience, the ovarian cancer specialist suggests that my mother also likely suffered from endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a once rare disease that is now common. When the disease was first named and discovered in 1921 by a New York physician, there were only twenty reports of the illness in the medical literature. Today, the National Institutes of Health estimates that roughly 5.5 million women suffer from the disease in the United States, and as many as 89 million women may have it worldwide. An exact number is hard to come by, since the disease can only properly be diagnosed during surgery. Still, about one-third of women of childbearing age suffer some symptoms–including pelvic pain and infertility–and in the United States at least, the average age of onset has been declining…

Endometriosis is a complex condition, and no one is certain what causes it. Some scientists believe it is an immune system disorder. Others believe that women with endometriosis lack the ability to shed cells that have migrated and are growing where they should not be. Other scientists have focused on a genetic component of the disease since it can run in families. A woman with a sister or mother with endometriosis, for example, is three to seven times more likely to get the disease.

The mechanisms of endometriosis are not that different from those that create cancer: they involve cell proliferation, the migration of cells, and a change in their cellular nature. Endometriosis grows unchecked and invades surrounding tissues, and the body’s immune system fails to rid itself of the misplaced lesions. In the same way, the body fails to rid itself of cancerous lesions.

It is often but not always the case that the kind of cancer my sister suffered from, ovarian clear-cell adenocarcinoma, is preceded by endometriosis, and many believe that there is a relationship between the two diseases. Some scientists believe that endometriosis–in certain cases–is a kind of precancerous condition, and others believe that the two diseases spring forth in unison. Other experts theorize that the endometrial cells themselves drive the proliferation of cancer once it has started by producing their own estrogen. Each lesion is capable of increasing the local production of estrogen, so that once the disease takes hold it is capable of feeding itself.

In my sister’s case, cancerous growths arose within her endometrial lesions. Whatever the exact mechanism of disease development, women with the type of ovarian cancer that my sister suffered from have higher rates of endometriosis that the general female population. In one study, about 70 percent of the women with clear-cell ovarian cancer also had endometriosis.

Scientists have long suspected that chemicals of the type found in Waukegan–dioxins, PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)–play a role in human endometriosis.

pages 75 – 81

Carson died in 1964, but her work and her life serve as a warning to everyone who struggles with cancer. “As we pour millions into research and invest all our hopes in vast programs to find cures for established cases of cancer,” she wrote, “we are neglecting the golden opportunity to prevent, even while we seek to cure.”

Carson’s favorite quote, from Abraham Lincoln, can be found snuggled into her almost daily letters to Freeman, where she explains what keeps her going through her treatments and on to finish her groundbreaking book. It reads: “To sin by silence when they should protest, makes cowards of men.”

page 122

“What does last? The desire to seek truth? Or, in the words of Jean Michel, the ability to take a stand against “the monstrous distortion of history” when it gives birth to “false, foul and suspect myths?”
– Page 430

“…Behind him, on a placard nailed to the wall, it was written that God was the head of this house….Hermann Schmitz, the company’s (IG Farben) powerful and secretive CEO. Schmitz was also a director of the Deutsche Reichsbank, the German central bank, and director of the Bank for International Settlements in Geneva. He was believed to be the wealthiest banker in all of Germany…Hermann Schmitz was one of the most important players in the economics of the Third Reich… When CIOS (Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee) team leader Major Tilley learned that Hermann Schmitz had been located, he rushed to Heidelberg… Tilley asked the Farben CEO a series of banal questions, all the while tapping on the walls of Schmitz’s study. Slowly, Tilley made his way around the room this way, listening for any inconsistencies in the way the walls were built. Schmitz grew increasingly uncomfortable. Finally he began to cry. Tilley had found what he was looking for: a secret safe buried in Schmitz’s office wall…. What secret was contained in his safe? Major Tilley instructed Schmitz to open it. Inside, lying flat, was a photo album. “The photographs were in a wooden inlaid cover dedicated to Hermann Schmitz on his twenty-fifth jubilee, possibly as a Farben director,” Tilley explained in a CIOS intelligence report. Tilley lifted out the photo album from its hiding place, flipped open the cover, and began reviewing the pictures. On page 1 of the scrapbook, the word “Auschwitz” was written. Tilley’s eyes scanned over a picture of a street in a Polish village. Next to the photograph was a cartoonish drawing “depicting individuals who had once been part of the Jewish population who lived there, portrayed in a manner that was not flattering to them,” Tilley explained. The caption underneath the cartoon read: “The Old Auschwitz. As it Was. Auschwitz in 1940.”

At this point, Tilley wrote in his CIOS report, he was surprised at how “highly emotional” Schmitz became. What Tilley did not yet know that he was looking at Schmitz’s secret photo album that chronicled the building history of Farben’s labor concentration camp, IG Auschwitz, from the very start…”
Pages 70 – 72

“Meanwhile, the FBI was having difficulty getting approval for Strughold’s visa application for immigration into the United States. The Bureau had conducted a special inquiry into Dr. Strunghold back in Germany. “One informant, who had known the subject, ” investigators learned, said that Strughold “had expressed the opinion that the Nazi party had done a great deal for Germany. He [Strughold] said that prior to Nazism, the Jews had crowded the medical schools, and it had been nearly impossible for others to enroll.”
page 275

For Additional information click on the link below to access the author’s website


Kemna concentration camp (German: Konzentrationslager Kemna, KZ Kemna) was one of the early Nazi concentration camps, created by the Third Reich to incarcerate their political opponents (ostensibly in protective custody) after the Nazi Party first seized power in 1933. The camp was established in a former factory on the Wupper river in the Kemna neighborhood of the Barmen quarter of Wuppertal. It was run by the SA group in Düsseldorf. Those imprisoned were primarily those swept up in mass arrests of political opponents from the Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands, KPD) and the Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) from the Bergisches Land, also certain unaligned Christians, and unionists. Jews who were there were imprisoned for their political views, not because they were Jews,[5] although the SA’s anti-semitism resulted in worse treatment if one even appeared to be Jewish.[22]…

“There were also transports and others arrested individually from the area, including nearby cities such as Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Krefeld and Essen. While the guards in other concentration camps were from various parts of Germany, prisoners and guards at Kemna were all from the same area and often knew each other personally.[5][23] Some prisoners were prominent in their areas or in the region and were considered “trophy prisoners” and subjected to especially harsh treatment and vengeful torment. These “big shots”, as the SA called them, included Heinrich Hirtsiefer, a former Prussian Vice Minister President…”


While I was a consultant to the Prussian Ministry of Health in Germany during 1930 – 1933, I had occasion to advise Dr. Hirtseifer, State Secretary of Health, about the deplorable condition of the soil around certain large cities, especially Essen, Dortmund, and Dusseldorf. I suggested the use of human manure, mostly wasted by canalization in place of chemical fertilizers. This was carried out along with the planting of vegetable gardens around these big cities. Composts, i.e., a mixture of dried manure from humans and animals plus straw and leaves, were used to cover these gardens in October and November and were allowed to remain through the winter. The soil was then ploughed in the spring; planting was done from four to six weeks later. Depending upon the original condition of the soil, it took several years or more to develop a fertile topsoil by this method. According to Dr. Hirtsiefer, the results were highly satisfactory, in that vegetables were obtained which were greatly superior in both quantity and quality to those previously obtained by the use of chemical fertilizers. It is interesting that no human disease was transmitted by this type of fertilizing, due, most probably, first to compost being exposed to sun, air, freezing, and snow throughout the winter, and second to the fact that most pathogenic bacteria will not survive long in a healthy soil which normally contains much antibiotic material. This is the method of the natural cycle used for over a thousand years by the farmers of the ancient Teutonic or Allemanic Empire, now known as Western Europe.
For more than 30 years Professor Czapek of Prague collected an enormous amount of information about the mineral content of the lowly potato. He found whenever artificial fertilizer was used on potatoes, there generally was a great increase in the potato crop but at the same time there was more sodium chloride and H20 and less starch and K,P, etc.; therefore, there was a greater vulnerability to many diseases in which excess NaCI and H20 play a prominent causative and dangerous part. … On a commercial fox ranch in the Harz Mountains the owner made a striking animal experiment. He used vegetables and fruits raised by organic gardening to cure foxes with lung tuberculosis after reading in a journal of my method of treating lung tuberculosis. He cured six out of seven foxes with the dietetic regime, containing among other things a great deal of K plus living tissue enzymes; he observed that the furs became extraordinarily good. He then advertised to buy sick foxes from other farms for very little, and established a large business as the low cost tuberculosis foxes regained their health and produced high quality fox furs…
We must conclude from these observations that unless the soil is cared for properly, the depleted soil with its abnormal external metabolism will bring about more and more abnormalities of our internal metabolism, resulting in serious degenerative diseases in animals and human beings. The soil needs activity–the natural cycle of growth; it needs rest; it needs protection from erosion; and finally, it needs less and less artificial fertilizer, but more and more of the use of organic waste material in the correct way, to maintain the soil’s productivity and life. Food produced in that way–we have to eat as living substances, partly fresh and partly freshly prepared, for life begets life. Organic gardening food seems to be the answer to the cancer problem.

Dr. Max Gerson Pages 183 – 185

Chapter XIII – Scientists Term Radiation A Peril to Future of Man

Chapter XXIII – Insecticides. “…spraying with modern insecticides is doing more and more damage to our food and to our bodies. I cannot emphasize too often that our nutrition is our external metabolism…. The introduction for uncontrolled general use by the public of the insecticide DDT, or chlorophenothane, and the series of even more deadly substances that followed, has no previous counterpart in history.” page 167

Hearings before a Subcommittee of the COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN RELATIONS
Second Session on S. 1875

A Bill to authorize and request the President to undertake to mobilize at some convenient place in the United States an adequate number of the World’s Outstanding Experts, and coordinate and utilize their services in a Supreme Effort to Discover Means of Curing and Preventing Cancer.

July 1, 2, and 3, 1946

Effects of decabrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE 209) exposure at different developmental periods on synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus of adult rats In vivo.

Xing T1, Chen L, Tao Y, Wang M, Chen J, Ruan DY.
Author information

Polybromininated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used as flame-retardant additives. Previous studies have demonstrated that PBDEs exposure can lead to neurotoxicity. However, little is known about the effects of PBDE 209 on synaptic plasticity. This study investigated the effect of decabrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE 209), a major PBDEs product, on synaptic plasticity in the dentate gyrus of rats at different developmental periods. We examined the input/output functions, paired-pulse reactions, and the long-term potentiation of the field excitatory postsynaptic potential slope and the population spike amplitude in vivo. Rats were exposed to PBDE 209 during five different developmental periods: pregnancy, lactation via mother’s milk, lactation via intragastric administration, after weaning, and prenatal to life. We found that exposed to PBDE 209 during different developmental periods could impair the synaptic plasticity of adult rats in different degrees. The results also showed that PBDE 209 might cause more serious effects on the postsynaptic cell excitability in synaptic plasticity, and the lactation period was the most sensitive time of development towards PBDE 209.


Inhibition of progenitor cell proliferation in the dentate gyrus of rats following post-weaning lead exposure.

Schneider JS1, Anderson DW, Wade TV, Smith MG, Leibrandt P, Zuck L, Lidsky TI.
Author information

Although lead is a potent developmental neurotoxin, the effects of postnatal lead exposure on progenitor cell proliferation in the hippocampus has not been examined. Postnatal day 25 rats were fed a lead containing diet (1500 ppm lead acetate) for 30-35 days and administered bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU, 50 mg/kg, i.p.) during the last 5 days of lead exposure. Animals were killed 24 h after the last BrdU injection. Proliferation of new cells in the subgranular zone and dentate gyrus was significantly decreased in lead-exposed rats compared to control animals that ate a similar diet devoid of lead. These results suggest that postnatal lead exposure can have significant deleterious effects on progenitor cell proliferation and thus the structure and function of the hippocampus.



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