AS PRODUCTION of nanotubes grows and applications emerge, producers must confront environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues. Executives who spoke with C&EN uniformly describe company efforts to address the handling of and exposure to materials by workers, customers, and consumers. Bayer and Arkema, for example, use entirely closed manufacturing systems. Exhaust gases are not only filtered but also incinerated, notes Martin Schmid, head of global Baytubes operations at Bayer MaterialScience.
According to David J. Arthur, chief executive officer of SouthWest NanoTechnologies (SWeNT), "we have operating procedures to ensure that people are safely handling the materials through the production process and in packaging and shipping." Recently, the company has been emphasizing how to "productize" its materials to make them easier and safer to use, he adds.
Although dry powders are the most versatile, end users may prefer to use other product forms during development and manufacturing of nanotube-containing products. For example, SWeNT can supply aqueous gels or materials coated with water-soluble polymers to prevent nanotubes from going airborne.
Two weeks ago, the House Committee on Science & Technology conducted a hearing on the environmental and safety impacts of nanotechnology at which several prominent experts pointed to a need for government action and coordinated efforts. Companies including Bayer, Arkema, and Nanocyl are already involved in research-oriented initiatives such as NanoSafe, NanoTox, and NanoCare that are looking at issues regarding production, toxicology, and product fate. In 2006, the Producers' Association of Carbon Nanotubes in Europe was formed to exchange information on good practices.
Meanwhile, government agencies are attempting to develop EHS research strategies that will likely influence and inform investment in nanotechnology as well as potential regulations (C&EN, Oct 15, page 29).
"These questions have accompanied us for a number of years and will for years to come," Schmid says. "We believe that every manufacturer has to look at its own products and conduct the appropriate tests necessary to make sure that safe handling, safe processing, and safe end uses are possible."