Monday, June 23, 2014

Will Cadmium be banned in artists' paints in Europe?

The European Chemicals Agency is currently consulting on proposed restrictions - a virtual ban - on the use of  Cadmium in artists' paints in Europe. Unless a case is made against the proposal Cadmium might be banned in artists paints and other art materials within a couple of years.

Consultation on the proposed ban on Cadmium in artists' paints in Europe

How the proposed ban came about

Sweden prepared a restriction report on the use of Cadmium in artists paints
The proposed restriction concerns placing on the market and use of cadmium and its
compounds in artists’ paints; TARIC code [3213] and pigments TARIC code [3212]
that could be used for the manufacture of artists’ paints.
This is the 203 page Swedish report (in English) Proposal for a Restriction - Cadmium and its Compounds I Artists Paints
During use and cleaning procedures cadmium based artists’ paint is released to the waste water. At the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) the cadmium pigments will for a predominating part end up in the sewage sludge. Sludge is then applied as
fertiliser in the agriculture. The cadmium compounds used in artists’ paints
will eventually dissolve in the soil (Gustafsson 2013, Appendix 3) and hence there is a potential crop uptake and in the extension exposure to humans via food.

Colours, imitating cadmium, already exist. Cadmium based pigments are mainly substituted by organic pigments. The properties of the organic pigments are in many
ways similar to cadmium colours but cannot be considered identical and thus have to be evaluated on a case - by - case basis by the individual artist.

The alternatives are generally less costly per volume unit but require larger volumes than cadmium based paints. In this report it is assumed that these aspects cancel each other out The proposed restriction will effectively reduce the identified risk.

Consultation on the proposal

You can comment on the proposal before 19 September 2014 - however I suggest you read the commentary by Spectrum Artist Paints first

Click this link to find out how you can give comments

Public consultation on restriction proposal

Anyone can comment on a proposal to restrict a substance. Those most likely to be interested are companies, organisations representing industry or civil society, individual citizens, as well as public authorities.

Comments are welcomed from the EU or beyond.

The public consultation lasts for six months.


Provide your comments within the first three months of the consultation period to ensure that your comments are taken into account when the rapporteurs of ECHA's Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) and the Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis (SEAC) meet three months after the publication of the proposal.

Write your comments in English, if possible.

Response to date from the art community

Spectrum Artists Paints is leading a campaign for cadmium in artists' paints. Read their blog posts
Naturally the manufacturers and distributors of artists' paint are most concerned. Here's some articles about the problem
Artists have also commented. In Complicated Cadmium Botanical Artist Jarnie Godwin comments on the availability of alternative pigments and paints by different manufacturers.

UPDATE - more comments and responses (as at 6th July 2014)

More blog posts of Jackson's Art Blog

Thanks to Gisele Pellegrini for reminding me about this topic and its currency.


  1. I teach painting and safe disposal of paint sludge is always one of my topics. I'm stunned by how few artists - even professionals - save the sludge and bring it to a hazardous waste site. No acrylic painter that I've spoken to does this as they feel that it must be "less toxic than oils" since it can be cleaned with water. It all goes down the drain.

    I think artists are hugely uneducated about the dangers of the materials that they discard so blithely every day and the proposed ban may get people thinking about what they have on their palettes.

  2. I must confess I was thinking along the same lines. The responsibility is twofold - the manufacturers need to make safe paint and artists need to use safe practices.

    It's irresponsibility and negligence which leads to proposed bans like this.

    While researching I did note there's been a lot of evidence about cadmium in food grown in China - not a country renowned for its approach to health and safety.

  3. We are many Europeans who worries about this. But this ban is also somewhat of a "scape goat project".
    Unfortunately it is our Swedish Minister of Environment who will enforce this legislation on the EU. The amount of cadmium from artists paint that are released into nature is much, much, much less than what the agricultural industry is responsible for. While banning cadmium artist paint, she – in her role as Minister of Agriculture – lowered taxes on fertiliser containing cadmium (this cadmium does not come from artist paint remains). Also – the food industry in itself, use a lot of cadmium that makes it way into the food. Not to talk about the gigantic amounts of cadmium that find it's way into the environment due to tobacco and smoking.
    The minister was in an TV-news interview asked about this, but did not want to comment on the issue.

    Unfortunately, the Professors in painting at the Art Academies and Art Colleges here do not know anything about painting, and are of the opinion that there is no difference between cadmium colours and other paints (a few years ago, the professor of Painting at the Royal College of Art actually stated that figurative realistic painting is "decadent", and a school teaching such kind of painting should not be permitted in Sweden).
    So this legislation will be based on a short statement that there is no differences between cadmium colours and the newer organic pigments: "they have almoust similar hue" (as if hue were the issue).

    A legislation like this will also in the end afflict you guys in the USA.
    First you will not be able to buy cadmium paint made by any of the European paint manufacturers. You vill not be able to paint with these if you ever come here to paint. And if you bring them with you, you might get a fine of a few 1000$.
    Then: There are not many manufacturers of cadmium pigments on the planet. Maybe 4-5. All the European ones will be ending their production. The other ones (if any) might sooner or later shut down, due to that it won't be economically sustainable to manufacture the pigments only for an American market.
    The cadmium pigment are difficult to manufacture. It is not like lead white, that you can make at home.

    I hope you guys also protests against this at the EU-site. We would need some transatlantic solidarity on this issue.
    If you do, give sophisticated statements why the cadmiums can not be replaced by other organic yellows, oranges and reds. What they are specially used for. And give alternatives to enforcing a total ban:
    Like tougher restrictions on how to clean painting equipment. This way, also other not so environmental friendly chemicals won't get their way out in nature. Like zinc white (not good for the aquatic environment), chromes, cobalts, mangane (in umbers), the acrylic medium in itself, turpentine, etc.
    Laws that retailers, manufacturers, art schools, and others, must give advise on how to clean equipment and handle paint remains.
    Maybe a license for professional artists (those who know how to handle the paint in an environmental friendly way) to use cadmium paint. Most of the cadmium that get their way down the drains are put there by amateurs painting with water solvable colours and just clean their brushes under running water.
    Maybe a ban of water solvable cadmium paint.
    And finally, maybe a bit of irony: That it might be better to first ban much worse sources of cadmium like smoking/tobacco – since then many other negative effects on the environment, personal health, and social economy also would be prevented. And the use of so much cadmium in the agricultural industry and in food production.

    /HÃ¥kan, Sweden

  4. I've also seen an interesting video from Liquitex, Winsor and Newton and LeFranc and Bourgeois. They interviewed five artists about the effects a restriction would have - it's on YouTube here


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