All we have heard about graphene is the superior properties that gave manufacturers and scientists sleepless nights on how these properties can be tapped for various industrial applications.
As a result, graphene has earned itself many admirers due to it thin, very strong, flexible, and excellent thermal and electrical conductivity. Now there is a new discovery by scientists may drain away all this excitement about graphene and leave people thinking twice about its applicability. The Achilles heel of the miracle substance comes in the form of its potential to become a pollutant and an environmental hazard.
The University of California lab has been studying the possible negative effects of graphene. According to the study, graphene oxide nanoparticles do not break easily in rivers or lakes and can take an incredibly long time without breaking and hence travel long distances. The study focused on the behavior of graphene when exposed to groundwater, surface water, and the effect of this behavior on living things. The nanoparticles remain stable in surface waters and can travel a long distance. In addition, the findings gave an indication that the mobility of graphene increases in waters such as streams and lakes. These particles can have negative environmental effects.
When graphene is released into underground water that is likely to be harder and with less organic materials, the material quickly breaks down and becomes unstable and can either settle or is removed from water.
However, for water above ground, graphene remains stable and rapidly disperses. Another study has established that when graphene is ingested in the body, it can find its way into cells and the content may cause damage.
Graphene materials can be inhaled accidentally or injected in the body for biomedical purposes. Therefore, there is a need to understand how graphene relate with other cells within the human body. Before, there was a general assumption that graphene is found in ideal square sheets. However, according to the research team, there is a possibility of graphene breaking off into small piece. It is possible for these bits to break and interact with human cells and be absorbed into the body.
The study did not establish what exactly happens when graphene particles stay for too long in water or the effects of absorbing them into the human body. It is also not clear about the effects of exposure of graphene in the long term. Before graphene can be made an everyday material, these effects need to be established to establish if they are toxic to the environment and the human body.