Lynn Bergeson’s Jan. 15, 2015 post on the Nanotechnology Now website mentions a newly issued Canadian risk assessment for multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs),
Canada announced on January 9, 2015, that the New Substances Program has published six new risk assessment summaries for chemicals and polymers, including a summary for multi-wall carbon nanotubes.
… Environment Canada and Health Canada conduct risk assessments on new substances. These assessments include consideration of information on physical and chemical properties, hazards, uses, and exposure to determine whether a substance is or may become harmful to human health or environment as set out in Section 64 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999), and, if harm is suspected, to introduce any appropriate or required control measures. …
Here’s more information from the Summary of Risk Assessment Conducted Pursuant to subsection 83(1) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999
Significant New Activity No. 17192: Multi-wall carbon nanotubes webpage,
The substance is a short tangled multi-walled carbon nanotube that can be classified as a nanomaterial. [emphasis mine]
The substance is proposed to be manufactured in or imported into Canada in quantities greater than 1000 kg/yr for use as an additive in plastics.
Environmental Fate and Behaviour
Based on its physical and chemical properties, if released to the environment, the substance will tend to partition to water, sediment, soil, and ambient air. The substance is expected to be persistent in these compartments because it is a stable inorganic chemical that will not degrade. Based on the limited understanding of uptake by organisms, more data is required to assess the bioaccumulation potential of this substance at the current schedule notification.
Based on the available hazard information on the substance and surrogate data on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance has low to moderate (1-100 mg/L) acute toxicity in aquatic life (fish/daphnia/algae). The predicted no effect concentration was calculated to be less than 1 mg/L using the ErC50 from the most sensitive organism (P. subcapitata), which was used to estimate the environmental risk.
The notified and other potential activities in Canada were assessed to estimate the environmental exposure potential of the substance throughout its life cycle. Environmental exposure from the notified activities was determined through a conservative generic single point-source release blending scenario. The predicted environmental concentration for notified activities is estimated to be 2.1 µg/L.
Based on the current use profile in conjunction with low to moderate ecotoxicity endpoints, the substance is unlikely to cause ecological harm in Canada.
However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and nanomaterials in general, a change in the use profile of the substance (SNAc No. 17192) may significantly alter the exposure resulting in the substance becoming harmful to the environment. Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential environmental risks.
Human Health Assessment
Based on the available hazard information on the substance, the substance has a low potential for acute toxicity by the oral, dermal and inhalation routes of exposure (oral and dermal LD50 greater than 2000 mg/kg bw; inhalation LC50 greater than 1.3 mg/m3). It is a severe eye irritant (MAS score = 68), a mild skin irritant (PII = 1.08) and at most a weak sensitizer (because the positive control was tested at a concentration 10X higher than the test substance). It is not an in vitro mutagen (negative in a mammalian cell gene mutation test and in a mammalian chromosome aberration test). Therefore the substance is unlikely to cause genetic damage.
Hazards related to substances used in the workplace should be classified accordingly under the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
However, based on the available information on structurally related nanomaterials, the substance may cause respiratory toxicity, immunotoxicity, cardiovascular toxicity and carcinogenicity following oral and inhalation exposure.
When used as an additive in plastics, the substance is expected to be manufactured in or imported into Canada encapsulated in a solid polymer matrix. The potential site of exposure to the substance is expected to be within industrial facilities. Therefore, direct exposure of the general population is expected to be low. No significant environmental release is anticipated due to the specialized use under this notification and therefore indirect exposure of the general population from environmental media is also expected to be low. However, if the substance is produced in different forms (e.g. liquid polymer form), applied in different formulations or used in any other potential applications, an increased direct or indirect exposure potential may exist.
Based on the low potential for direct and indirect exposure of the general population under the industrial uses identified in this submission, the substance is not likely to pose a significant health risk to the general population, and is therefore unlikely to be harmful to human health.
However, based on the current understanding of carbon nanotubes and of nanomaterials in general, the risk arising from the use of the substance in consumer products is not known at this time. The use of the substance in consumer products or in products intended for use by or for children may significantly alter the exposure of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health. Similarly, the import or manufacture of the substance in quantities greater than 10 000 kg/yr may significantly increase the exposure levels of the general population resulting in the substance becoming harmful to human health. Consequently, more information is necessary to better characterize potential health risks.
I would like to see a definition for the word short as applied, in this risk assessment, to multi-walled carbon nanotubes. That said, this assessment is pretty much in line with current thinking about short, multi-walled carbon nanotubes. In short (wordplay noted), these carbon nanotubes are relatively safe (although some toxicological issues have been noted) as far as can be determined. However, the ‘relatively safe’ assessment may change as more of these carbon nanotubes enter the environment and as people are introduced to more products containing them.
One last comment, I find it surprising I can’t find any mention in the risk assessment of emergency situations such as fire, earthquake, explosions, etc. which could conceivably release short multi-walled carbon nanotubes into the air exposing emergency workers and people caught in a disaster. As well, those airborne materials might subsequently be found in greater quantity in the soil and water.