Cadmium in Crisis!
There is a possibility that Cadmium Pigments will be banned by the EU.
The authorities concerned, however, are currently assessing the situation and taking on comments from the public.
We know that a ban would affect many of our customers so we are writing to you in the hope that you can help us raise awareness of this issue and we are asking as many artists as possible to visit the ECHA (European Chemical Agency) website to give their opinions on the use, unique characteristics and handling of these special paints.
Below is an article written by our friend Michael Craine, from Spectrum Paints, who expains all the issues. We invite you to read his article before passing comment on the ECHA website.
What’s the issue?
It might initially appear rather dry and uninteresting, but the European Union’s Chemical Agency(ECHA) is considering severely restricting or even banning the use of all Cadmium pigments. It could be a significant reduction to the artists’ palette – arguably an even bigger change than the restrictions applied to the use of lead in artists’ colours. Whereas the risks associated with lead were undeniable and obvious, the premise on which the cadmium proposal is based appears both unconvincing and entirely unnecessary to many.
Why all the fuss now?
Pressure from one particular EU member state means that Cadmium pigments could be stripped of the protection they currently enjoy when used in the limited application of artists’ colours, and the changes could be introduced within a couple of years.
What is the objection?
Our understanding is that the objection to the continued use of heavy metal Cadmium pigments is based not on concern for the paint maker or artistic user, but to prevent such materials entering the water course, Essentially, one EU member maintains that by rinsing brushes in the sink, cadmium may enter the waste water treatment plants and end up in the sludge. When the sludge is spread on agricultural land, growing crops absorbs the cadmium and consequently this will lead to an increased exposure to humans via food.
How dangerous is Cadmium?
Animal studies have shown that cadmium pigments are potentially toxic and carcinogenic when inhaled or eaten. Over the years, paint makers have consequently used cadmium pigments of progressively lower solubility in efforts to increase safety. However we must be realistic and say that there is still reason to treat paints made with cadmium pigments with extra care. As has been said, there are no safe chemicals; just safe ways of using them!
The greater risks associated with cadmium are in the industrial setting of the paint manufacturer, where inhalation of dry pigment could be possible if appropriate measures were not taken. As a consequence CEPE members set stringent workplace exposure limits and hygiene requirements. We take this seriously and workers exposed to cadmium pigments are required to have periodic testing to determine their blood levels of the element.
What is the CEPE organisation that you refer to?
The European artists’ colours association (CEPE) is the member organisation that represents paint, ink and artists’ colours manufacturers in Europe. Here in the UK the cadmium debate is of particular concern and interest to CEPE members. It is CEPE who quietly get on ‘behind the scenes’ ensuring that Europe remains the sustainable home of fine art materials.
Is Cadmium a new addition to an artist’s palette?
Definitely not! Cadmium pigments were discovered around 1820 and first used commercially for artists’ use by the mid 1840’s. The cost and scarcity of the metal kept their use relatively limited in mainstream artists’ materials until the 1920’s. Their introduction provided unequalled hues in the yellow to deep red range, in terms of brightness, strength, beauty and light-fastness.
Are artists amongst the world’s big polluters?
The artist fraternity has probably been caught with a punch intended for a much bigger boxer! There are a number of initiatives regarding the long term environmental impact of cadmium in landfills and water courses. The landfill issue is largely the result of the use of soluble cadmium compounds in battery manufacture and the sheer numbers of spent batteries in the waste stream. However, for the purposes of reducing the potential for cadmium compounds leaching out of landfills, cadmium from all sources is of concern to the agencies regulating waste disposal. Any cadmium-containing waste that releases the metal is considered hazardous waste. Perhaps it is these other issues that have brought cadmium to the fore now and the art world are simply an innocent bystander?
What is to stop the EU cadmium ban going ahead?
CEPE has an excellent relationship with regulators including the European Chemical Agency ECHA who genuinely will listen to informed and constructive contributions. If artists and manufacturers present evidence that artists can be relied upon to dispose of the small quantities of cadmium waste from paint in a responsible manner and not down the sink, it is not impossible that a dispensation could be made for Artists’ paints.
Who is leading the campaign?
Whilst not leading an identifiable campaign, members of the European artists’ colours association met in Brussels last month to consider how they might respond to the European Union’s changing attitude towards Cadmium pigments. We will not be standing outside any foreign embassies with placards, but we do feel a strong responsibility to at least consult with artists. Hence this conversation.
Why is Cadmium so important?
Cadmium hues range from pale to golden deep yellows; light fiery to deep oranges through to light bright scarlet to deep reds and maroons. These brilliant pigments are loved for their strength, purity and light fast properties. Some artists prefer more descriptive and perhaps more illustrative adjectives such as zingy, joyous and singing colours!
Are there alternatives?
Yes but they are limited and generally poor relations. Although the properties of alternative organic pigments are in many ways similar to cadmium colours, they are not identical in every respect. Variations include how the colours mix to create new colours, strength, opacity and purity.
Couldn’t I just make my own?
The same restrictions will ultimately apply to us all wanting to make cadmium colours; whether in the factory or in the private studio. If a ban is applied to us professional paint makers, you will probably find it impossible to get hold of cadmium pigments. The sustainability of cadmium on artist’s palette will depend upon continuing demand for the pigment in other industries too. Only a small percentage of cadmium pigments are used in the production of artists’ colours. The overwhelming majority is used in the plastics and packaging industry, where the pigment offers great stability when subjected to the high heat. That’s why it is used in the coloured glaze for certain cooking dishes! I feel certain other industries too will also be putting their best foot forward!
Why is CEPE so concerned about the ban?
We fear that if this somewhat underwhelming case is accepted, it makes no recognition of the generally high standards demanded by artists and paint makers and leads the way to further bans of even safer pigments in the future. CEPE members also fear that should European manufacturers lose the right to use Cadmium pigments, inferior products (without the generally high environmental standards expected within Europe) will be imported and remain in circulation.
What happens next?
The dossier handed to the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) has been accepted at this preliminary stage as being worthy of merit for consideration. ECHA has started a public consultation exercise lasting six months until 19th September of this year.
What are the possible outcomes?
The worst-case scenario is that Cadmiums could be banned within a couple of years, which in the view of many of us in the industry is both distressing and entirely unnecessary. If it did come into effect, the tap would be turned off the supply of pigment and we would see the remaining stock pass through the supply chain until it is gone.
Is there a petition to sign?
We are not organising a petition as mass numbers don’t help or inform ECHA greatly. What is helpful is an understanding on how artists handle residual paint from brushes and tubes and indeed how much paint is wasted. In addition anecdotal stories on the power and beauty of cadmium colours and the influence on the selling price of a painting would also be relevant.
How can individual artists have their say?
ECHA would like to hear from artists who use Cadmium pigments in acrylic, oil or water colour to gauge what level of risk this represents. They would like to build up a view of the experiences of users so they can constructively contribute to the debate in a genuinely informed way. For example they would like to discover how much Cadmium paint is left when old tubes and tins are discarded and how much paint is wasted when brushes and palettes are cleaned? A recent study in the USA estimated that less than 5% of all cadmium paints fails to reach the canvas. Do artists feel that is a fair estimate? ECHA are also likely to be interested to hear if Cadmium paints add value to paintings by their strength, vibrancy and longevity.
How can I have my say?
If you would like to comment on this proposed change, please visit www.echa.europa.eu/restrictions-under-consideration
What is the deadline for contributions and opinions?
No time like the present! Submissions in the next few weeks would be most effective.
When will we find out if cadmium has survived?
The consultation ends in September after which the ECHA will retire for several months’ discussion during which time the committee members cannot be lobbied or contacted.