Journal of Hazardous Materials, 2022, in press

Hazard assessment of abraded thermoplastic composites reinforced with reduced graphene oxide

Savvina Chortarea, Ogul Can Kuru, Woranan Netkueakul, Marco Pelin, Sandeep Keshavan, Zhengmei Song, Baojin Ma, Julio Gómes, Elvira Villaro Abalos, Luis Luna, Thomas Loret, Alexander Fordham, Matthew Drummond, Nikolaos Kontis, George Anagnostopoulos, George Paterakis, Pietro Cataldi, Aurelia Tubaro, Costas Galiotis, Ian Kinloch, Bengt Fadeel, Cyrill Bussy, Kostas Kostarelos, Tina Buerki-Thurnherr, Maurizio Prato, Alberto Bianco, Peter Wick*

Graphene-related materials (GRMs) are subject to intensive investigations and considerable progress has been made in recent years in terms of safety assessment. However, limited information is available concerning the hazard potential of GRM-containing products such as graphene-reinforced composites. In the present study, we conducted a comprehensive investigation of the potential biological effects of particles released through an abrasion process from reduced graphene oxide (rGO)-reinforced composites of polyamide 6 (PA6), a widely used engineered thermoplastic polymer, in comparison to as-produced rGO. First, a panel of well-established in vitro models, representative of the immune system and possible target organs such as the lungs, the gut, and the skin, was applied. Limited responses to PA6-rGO exposure were found in the different in vitro models. Only as-produced rGO induced substantial adverse effects, in particular in macrophages. Since inhalation of airborne materials is a key occupational concern, we then sought to test assessed whether the in vitro responses noted for these materials would translate into adverse effects in vivo. To this end, the response at 1, 7 and 28 days after a single pulmonary exposure was evaluated in mice. In agreement with the in vitro data, PA6-rGO induced a modest and transient pulmonary inflammation, resolved by day 28. In contrast, rGO induced a longer-lasting, albeit moderate inflammation that did not lead to tissue remodelling within 28 days. Taken together, the present study suggests a negligible impact on human health under acute exposure conditions of GRM fillers such as rGO when released from composites at doses expected at the workplace.