On April, 8, 2009, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ("NIOSH") and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDC") submitted a notice for public comment in the Federal Register, requesting information to evaluate potential health risks associated with the use of carbon nanotubes ("CNTs"). 74 Fed. Reg. 15985-15986 (Apr. 8, 2009). NIOSH and CDC request by May 15, 2009, all information related to studies, workplace exposure data, and information on control measures where companies manufacture CNTs in products. The agencies plan to use this information to formalize recommendations for the safe handling of products that contain CNTs.
Recent scientific reports have drawn parallels between CNTs and asbestos. CNTs are long, thin particles similar to the needle-like shape of some asbestos fibers. In fact, these reports suggest that CNTs can cause adverse effects on the lung function of mice. These reports, in part, likely form the rationale for NIOSH's and CDC's focus on CNTs. Suggesting a connection between CNTs and the human health questions associated with asbestos is a sure way to gain the public's and the government's attention, even though the reports do not answer the critical question of whether CNT exposure can cause adverse consequences in humans, and are limited in a variety of ways. Regardless, this Notice from NIOSH and CDC demonstrates that the government is now highly concerned about the effects of CNTs on human health, and that it is focused on the future regulation of its use.
Companies that manufacture, integrate or sell nanomaterials, including, in particular, CNTs, need to be mindful of the actions taken as a result of this Notice. Companies should evaluate whether to communicate their views and/or findings to NIOSH and CDC by May 9, either through associations or directly. Whatever information NIOSH collects, and any guidance it may promulgate, could become the floor that companies may need to adhere to or risk future liability.