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June 23, 2016

NIOSH Explores Workplace Exposure to Multi-Walled Carbon Nanotubes

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The May 2016 issue of NIOSH Research Rounds includes an item entitled “Research Explores Workplace Exposure to Carbon Nanotubes.”  The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) summarizes the following two published papers by NIOSH investigators with partners at Kazan State Medical University, in Kazan, Russia, that explore whether workplace exposure to multi-walled carbon nanotubes could pose a risk for lung disease.  For both studies, participants from the same facility in Kazan volunteered to participate.

  • Integrated Analysis of Dysregulated ncRNA and mRNA Expression Profiles in Humans Exposed to Carbon Nanotubes: NIOSH states that workers exposed to multi-walled carbon nanotubes were significantly more likely than unexposed workers to have abnormal changes related to various cell functions including cell growth and cell death.  This study, published in the peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, is the first to look at these cellular changes in blood samples from workers exposed to multi-walled carbon nanotubes.  According to NIOSH, since this study had only a small number of participants, large-scale studies are needed to determine whether the observed ribonucleic acid (RNA) changes are useful markers of exposure in workers.  Additional work also is needed to determine if the effects observed are specific to the multi-walled carbon nanotubes and if this information can assist in developing good risk management practices.  The investigators recommended that these findings be considered when comparing the results from similar studies in the U.S., such as an ongoing study at NIOSH; and
  • Fibrosis Biomarkers in Workers Exposed to MWCNTs: Workers exposed to multi-walled carbon nanotubes were significantly more likely than non-exposed workers to have cellular changes that correlated with lung inflammation and scarring.  NIOSH states that these findings, published in the peer-reviewed journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, underscore the importance of implementing strict control measures as a reasonable precaution to prevent exposure to workers handling multi-walled carbon nanotubes.  The findings indicate that future studies should consider using the observed biomarkers to assess the health effects of workplace exposure to multi-walled carbon nanotubes.  In addition, according to investigators, a repository of biological samples would be a valuable tool for future studies.