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Nanotubes are to Asbestos as Litigation is to Litigation

Here's a scientific study with legal implication for business: "Carbon nanotubes introduced into the abdominal cavity of mice show asbestos-like pathogenicity in a pilot study." Published last week in the journal, "Nature Nanotechnology," the report prompted a rash of news coverage, which from what we've seemed, carried a reasonable sense of balance, caution and caveats.

The basic finding was that long carbon nanotubes -- in contrast to the short or curly ones -- created conditions in mice abdomen that resembled lesions that lead to mesothelioma in humans.

Prominently featured in all was the study's coauthor, Andrew Maynard, a physicist and chief science adviser to the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. In The New York Times, Maynard said, "I think there is clear evidence for caution in how they are used and handled." He told The Los Angeles Times that the greatest danger was to workers involved in the manufacturing of nanotubes who might inhale the dust.

The LAT story included useful perspective from a business source:

Sean Murdock, head of the NanoBusiness Alliance, an industry trade group based in Skokie, Ill., said precautions were now in place in many factories, usually requiring workers to wear respirators. Nanotubes are largely made in closed chemical reactors, he added.

"The good news is that we're understanding the potential hazards before we have large-scale use of these products and not four decades later," he said.

NPR's "Science Friday" carried a 24-minute segment on the study, again, pretty balanced. But several of the callers displayed the kind of uncertainty and anxiety that can produce a cultural and political environment that invites litigation. The thought kept recurring: When do the suits start?

In reading up on the study, we encountered this blog, Nanotechnology Law Report, written by John C. Monica, Jr. and Michael E. Heintz of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur. In this post, Monica excerpts a 2005 paper he co-wrote for Nanotechnology Law & Business, "Preparing for Future Health Litigation: The Application of Products Liability Law to Nanotechnology." And here, Heintz discusses a recent GAO report, ""Nanotechnology: Better Guidance Is Needed to Ensure Accurate Reporting of Federal Research Focused on Environmental, Health, and Safety Risks." Looks like a good site to keep up on, nanotechnologywise.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.