Fullerenes, also called bucky balls, are a very new modification of pure carbon and their form resembles soccer balls. They consist out of 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons with a carbon atom in each of edges of this lattice structure. There are only very few applications of this new material class.
How can I come into contact with this material?
Up to now fullerenes are only used in two prominent types of applications which however are not found in Europe. Fullerene nanoparticles are introduced into plastics and other composite materials to improve the products’ properties and a Japanese company is currently producing fullerene-containing cosmetics. Fullerene nanoparticles have excellent radical scavenging properties which is why they were added to an expensive line of anti-ageing cosmetic products resulting in a direct contact of the nanomaterial with the skin. Further possible applications have not yet been put into practice.
Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?
So far, there are only a few reliable studies on their health effects on humans or animals. Several studies investigated the distribution of fullerenes in the body and clearly demonstrated that these very small particles (only 0.7 nm in diameter) can penetrate tissue barriers. This fact is only true for individually occurring fullerene nanoparticles which normally exist in an agglomerated state thus reducing the penetration potential of tissue barriers significantly.
Fullerenes are not produced in high quantities and the actual amounts used in everyday products are so small that any possible negative effects can be ruled out. The situation might change however if new products are put on the market that contain considerable amounts of fullerene nanoparticles.
By the way…
- Actually fullerenes are too small to fulfil the definition requirements of nanomaterials (size between 1-100 nm) which is why ISO and OECD created an exception for this class of materials within the definition.