Potential release scenarios for carbon nanotubes used in composites
The expected widespread use of carbon nanotube (CNT)-composites in consumer products calls for an assessment of the possible release and exposure to workers, consumers and the environment. Release of CNTs may occur at all steps in the life cycle of products, but to date only limited information is available about release of CNTs from actual products and articles. As a starting point for exposure assessment, exploring sources and pathways of release helps to identify relevant applications and situations where the environment and especially humans may encounter releases of CNTs. It is the aim of this review to identify various potential release scenarios for CNTs used in polymers and identify the greatest likelihood of release at the various stages throughout the life-cycle of the product. The available information on release of CNTs from products and articles is reviewed in a first part. In a second part nine relevant release scenarios are described in detail: injection molding, manufacturing, sports equipment, electronics, windmill blades, fuel system components, tires, textiles, incineration, and landfills. Release from products can potentially occur by two pathways; (a) where free CNTs are released directly, or more frequently (b) where the initial release is a particle with CNTs embedded in the matrix, potentially followed by the subsequent release of CNTs from the matrix. The potential for release during manufacturing exists for all scenarios, however, this is also the situation when exposure can be best controlled. For most of the other life cycle stages and their corresponding release scenarios, potential release of CNTs can be considered to be low, but it cannot be excluded totally. Direct release to the environment is also considered to be very low for most scenarios except for the use of CNTs in tires where significant abrasion during use and release into the environment would occur. Also the possible future use of CNTs in textiles could result in consumer exposure. A possibility for significant release also exists during recycling operations when the polymers containing CNTs are handled together with other polymers and mainly occupational users would be exposed. It can be concluded that in general, significant release of CNTs from products and articles is unlikely except in manufacturing and subsequent processing, tires, recycling, and potentially in textiles. However except for high energy machining processes, most likely the resulting exposure for these scenarios will be low and to a non-pristine form of CNTs. Actual exposure studies, which quantify the amount of material released should be conducted to provide further evidence for this conclusion. © 2013 The Authors.
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QS - Quality & Safety
EELS - Earth, Environmental and Life Sciences
Environment International, 59, 1-11