NSTI Nanotech 2009

An Anticipatory Risk Characterization of Carbon Nanotubes

M. Philbrick
University of California, Berkeley, US

Keywords: carbon nanotubes, risk characterization, anticipatory governance, risk/benefit analysis, life cycle


Engineered carbon nanotubes are novel materials with remarkable properties; possible beneficial applications include aircraft frames, hydrogen storage, environmental sensors, electrical transmission, and many more. At the same time, precise assessment of their potential toxicity remains elusive, as they present several challenges to existing risk assessment procedures. The obstacles are particularly acute with respect to in vitro testing, suggesting the need to focus on in vivo studies in the short to medium term, and that scientific uncertainty is likely to persist. This situation in turn presents problems to both regulators essaying to carry out their mandates, and users of carbon nanotubes seeking to provide an appropriate level of protection to employees, customers, and other stakeholders. To address the information needs of these individuals and interested others, this article presents an “anticipatory risk characterization” of carbon nanotubes, translating the salient literature to date for non-toxicological audiences. In addition to providing a provisional basis for immediate actions, such anticipatory efforts might help to scope the problem definition for more formal future risk/benefit assessments.
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