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12-18-2014

Researchers Warn against Respirable Particle Dusts

Risks from CFRP Fires

Carbon-fiber reinforced plastics, CFRPs, are often regarded as the materials of the future. They are flexible, stable and light as a feather. In aircraft, wind turbines and fast, expensive cars or electric vehicles, for example, they have become indispensable. CFRPs, are even known as "black gold" because of their exceptional properties.

However, there is a dark side to these highly acclaimed composite materials, as has been discovered by the Wehrwissenschaftliche Institut für Werk- und Betriebsstoffe (WIWeB), Erding, Germany. At high temperatures of 650 °C and above, such as are found in fires, CFRP forms a hazardous particle dust. This extremely fine dust can enter the lungs and cause tumors. The researchers discovered that, at these temperatures, the microscopic carbon fibers are changed: they become even finer and are no longer trapped by the nasal mucosa, but pass deep into the lungs. The Fraunhofer Institute of Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM), Hanover, Germany, too, confirms this phenomenon. Consequently, if someone inhales very thin fibers with diameters less than three micrometers, they can reach the alveoli, i. e. the deep lung. The consequences for humans are known from asbestos. This could affect all the professions that provide emergency help at the scene of a fire, such as fire fighters, police, paramedics and tow-vehicle drivers.

Translated from Kunststoffe 12/2014, p. 6.

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