Review of carbon nanotubes toxicity and exposure - appraisal of human health risk assessment based on open literature

Karin Aschberger, Helinor J Johnston, Vicki Stone, Robert J Aitken, Steven M Hankin, Sheona A K Peters, C Lang Tran, Frans M Christensen

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    220 Citations (Scopus)


    Carbon nanotubes (CNTs) possess many unique electronic and mechanical properties and are thus interesting for numerous novel industrial and biomedical applications. As the level of production and use of these materials increases, so too does the potential risk to human health. This study aims to investigate the feasibility and challenges associated with conducting a human health risk assessment for carbon nanotubes based on the open literature, utilising an approach similar to that of a classical regulatory risk assessment. Results indicate that the main risks for humans arise from chronic occupational inhalation, especially during activities involving high CNT release and uncontrolled exposure. It is not yet possible to draw definitive conclusions with regards the potential risk for long, straight multi-walled carbon nanotubes to pose a similar risk as asbestos by inducing mesothelioma. The genotoxic potential of CNTs is currently inconclusive and could be either primary or secondary. Possible systemic effects of CNTs would be either dependent on absorption and distribution of CNTs to sensitive organs or could be induced through the release of inflammatory mediators. In conclusion, gaps in the data set in relation to both exposure and hazard do not allow any definite conclusions suitable for regulatory decision-making. In order to enable a full human health risk assessment, future work should focus on the generation of reliable occupational, environmental and consumer exposure data. Data on toxicokinetics and studies investigating effects of chronic exposure under conditions relevant for human exposure should also be prioritised.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)759-790
    Number of pages32
    JournalCritical Reviews in Toxicology
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • Carbon nanotubes
    • CNT
    • data gaps
    • exposure
    • MWCNT
    • hazard
    • risk
    • risk assessment
    • SWCNT
    • toxicity


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