Carbon nanotubes declared hazwaste

Carbon nanotubes have become the first nanomaterial to be classed as hazardous waste by the Environment Agency.

It made its decision following publication of a paper by scientists at the University of Edinburgh, which revealed that long carbon nanotubes have adverse asbestos-like health effects.1 The body cavities of mice showed a pathogenic response to the nanotubes, similar to asbestos exposure.

Carbon nanotubes are used in sports equipment due to their strength and light weight.

The Agency’s interim guidance says any waste containing carbon nanotubes above 0.1% by weight should now be treated as hazardous. The decision will be kept under review in light of future scientific evidence. It recommends disposal by high temperature incineration.

The Agency describes the move as "precautionary", but the analogy with asbestos fibres was discussed as long ago as 2001.

The Health and Safety Executive has inspected relevant manufacturing sites and is satisfied that appropriate handling procedures are in place. The Environment Department (DEFRA) and Agency are jointly funding a project to investigate potential exposure throughout product life cycles.

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