Carbon nanotubes – thin, hollow cylinders made of carbon atoms – look very much like asbestos. In 2004, the United Kingdom’s Royal Society and risk specialists at the world’s second largest reinsurance agent Swiss Re warned that once in our lungs, nanotubes may also behave like asbestos. Since then, a series of experiments have demonstrated that these warnings were well-founded. Now FoEA has released an overview of the key studies investigating the potential for carbon nanotubes to cause asbestos-like harm.

Despite mounting evidence of the asbestos-like dangers of carbon nanotubes, their commercial use is also growing rapidly – in sports goods, car and aeroplane parts, reinforced plastics and electronics. To avoid a repeat of the asbestos tragedy, Friends of the Earth is calling for an immediate moratorium on the commercial use of carbon nanotubes and the sale of products that incorporate nanotubes until:

– research can demonstrate whether or not there is any safe level of exposure to them

– new nanotechnology-specific regulation is introduced to protect the health of workers, the public and the environment

– all nanomaterials used in the workplace and in consumer products are subject to mandatory labelling, and

– the public is given a meaningful role in decision making about nanotechnology governance, policy development and research priorities.