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What is the Negative Impact of Graphene on the Environment?

Graphene is a truly impressive material, which is immensely durable yet incredibly lightweight and with incredible electric and thermal conductivity. These unique properties of graphene allow it to have used across the industrial spectrum.
Graphene discovered around 15 years ago and today has numerous applications in various forms of industries. From electronics and optometry to airplane designing, graphene is finding new and potential uses each day. However, with every new material discovered or invented, there is a potential for adverse effects on the environment, as seen with the use of fossil fuels.
Within the tide of media coverage that graphene is getting for its beautiful properties, concerns are voiced about the potential adverse effects of graphene on the environment.

Potential respiratory dangers of graphene particles

Graphene, its properties, possible uses, and adverse effects have become the focus of various studies conducted by globally renowned scientific societies and institutions.
Studies have pointed out not only environmental but also social and economic impacts that graphene can have. Although further, an in-depth research is still required, there are indications of the potentially harmful effects of graphene on the ecosystem.
Listed below are two most prominent studies that have indicated to the potentially harmful effects of graphene for humans and the environment.

Potential respiratory dangers of graphene particles

Microparticles of graphene can lead to severe respiratory problems, including lung cancer. Respiratory toxicologist Ken Donaldson and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh have shown how the minute graphene flakes (barely a few micrometers across) can enter the breathing system in humans. These nanoplatelets of graphene can become lodged deep within the lungs. The immune system has no mechanism to get rid of an inert material like graphene. Hence, the nanographene particles can permanently stay within the lungs and result in severe physiological harm to the tissue at the cellular level.
Ken Donaldson demonstrated the potential respiratory problems that can be caused by graphene nanoparticles in humans using a pharyngeal aspiration model, as reported in ‘ACSNano,’ the journal of the American Chemical Society.
In short, the microparticles of graphene have the potential to cause severe inflammation within the lungs, leading to acute respiratory problems. Eventually, the graphene platelet lodged within the lung can also develop a tumor, causing lung cancer.

Potential environmental impact of graphene particles

Graphene nanoparticles can prove dangerous for water resources too. Research by the University of California Riverside laboratory has shown the differences in movement and stability of graphene nanoparticles when they are in groundwater and surface water.
The research was aimed to understand how graphene nanoparticles would react when immersed in groundwater versus when immersed in surface water.
The study shows that in:
· Groundwater – Graphene particles become less stable in groundwater. Groundwater usually has more hardness and less natural organic matter in it. It may cause the graphene nanoplatelets to settle or get removed entirely eventually.
· Surface water – Graphene remains stable in surface water. Surface water has comparatively more natural organic matter in it. It helps the graphene nanoplatelets to be stable and even helps them move along in the sub-surface water levels.

We have less information about how much of artificially-engineered materials, such as graphene, is there in the environment today. The situation has been compared to the oil industries’ situation of 3 decades ago.
It calls for a proactive approach to learn of the potentially harmful effects of graphene on the environment. It will help take precautions that may prevent environmental degradation soon.

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