Fate of nanomaterials: Is it surprising to discover that nanotubes can be released from plastics?
We have long known that supposedly inert chemicals in plastics can break away from the finished product, exposing people and the environment to their health hazards. Flame retardants, plasticizers and monomers like Bisphenol A (BPA) are all well-known examples of chemicals that can emerge from plastics. Yet, somehow nanomaterials were assumed to be different—that once embedded in a plastic they would stay put. But the forces of nature have demonstrated otherwise. Environmental degradation – UV light, moisture and abrasion–were found in this research to cause carbon nanotubes to be released from nanocomposites, as these polymers are called. The scientists say that given concern about carbon nanotubes’ potential environmental health effects, more research is needed to better understand exactly when and how fast such release happens, the toxicity of the materials and how improved design can increase the safety of the materials.