Carbon nanotube pollutants found in human lungs

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Some potentially disturbing news out of France this week: Researchers studying the lungs of young Parisian asthma patients have found evidence that man-made carbon nanotubes are becoming a common air pollutant. Carbon nanotubes are deliberately manufactured in several industries — their unique physical properties make them useful in electronics and nanotechnology, especially. But they can also be created accidentally, as a byproduct of catalytic converters in automobile engines. The study — conducted by researchers in Paris and at Rice University in Houston — found that carbon nanotubes from the asthma patients' lungs are similar to nanotube samples taken from the exhaust pipes of Paris vehicles. It's apparently not just a local problem, either: The samples are also similar to nanotubes found in Houston, in spider webs in India and even in polar ice cores. No direct linkage is suggested between the nanotubes and asthma, but previous studies have questioned whether carbon nanotubes might act like asbestos, a known carcinogen. "The concentrations of nanotubes are so low in these samples that it's hard to believe they would cause asthma, but you never know," says chemist Lon Wilson in press materials provided by Rice University. "What surprised me the most was that carbon nanotubes were the major component of the carbonaceous pollution we found in the samples."
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