Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Rethink: about proposed ban on Cadmium in artists' paints - and artists' professional practices

Back in June, I posted Will Cadmium be banned in artists' paints in Europe? about the European Chemicals Agency's (ECHA) proposal for legislation to ban artists paints containing cadmium pigments throughout the EU.

Today I received an email from Dr Howard Oakley, who updated me on what has happened since. Dr Oakley put some considerable effort into protesting the proposed ban - and submitted a 22 page response!

He told me that the ECHA has changed its mind in the light of the evidence submitted as a result of the consultation on the proposed ban on cadmium in artists paints.
the proposed restriction is not the most appropriate EU wide measure to address the identified risks in terms of the proportionality of its socio-economic benefits to its socio-economic costs."
It's very interesting from a number of perspectives and, as well as the ECHA response, it also touches on:
  • Health & Safety: artists' awareness of the toxicity of cadmium and associated studio practice
  • Labelling practices: artists' awareness of whether or not they were assuming paint contained cadmium if it used the word Cadmium on the label - when it did not
  • Art Education: the role of art schools in promoting best practice in use of paint containing toxic pigments
  • Representation of Artists: the role of art societies in representing artists who use specific types of paint
Plus I ask you your views on a few questions........

Proposed Cadmium Ban: The response from the  European Chemicals Agency

This is the summary of the new position
RAC adopted its opinion, and SEAC agreed on a draft opinion, on cadmium and its compounds in artists’ paints, not supporting the proposal from Sweden to restrict the placing on the market and use of cadmium and its compounds in artists' paints covered by TARIC codes 3213 and 3212. The reason for the proposed action by Sweden was a concern for for human health via the environment . During use and cleaning procedures cadmium based artists’ paints are released to the waste water. When the resulting sewage sludge is applied as fertiliser in the agriculture, the cadmium compounds used in artists’ paints will eventually end up in foodstuffs.
RAC found the risks to be negligible. The 60-day public consultation on the SEAC draft opinion will be launched in December 2014. SEAC plans to adopt its final opinion by March 2015.  Annex to RAC and SEAC news alert December 2014 Annex to RAC and SEAC news alert December 2014 (121.4k)
REPORT:  This is the report of the ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment (adopted 26 november 2014)

OPINION: This is the

Cadmium selenide
Cadmium selenide
- used for red artist's paint
Significant doubts were cast on the estimates of the impact of cadmium in artists' paints.

The Committee also noted the impact assessments of artists.

I have to say that I really did think that the strength of opinion and the extent to which people were prepared to submit comments indicated to me that there was a good chance that the proposed ban would not be agreed.
Alternatives to Cd-containing artists’ paints are available. However, during public consultation it has been brought up by industry and by a large number of comments (341out of 666) by artists using the paints that alternatives to artists’ paints containing Cd donot provide the same technical specifications as Cd pigments e.g. regarding lightfastness, opacity and tinting strength (at least more paint has to be put on the canvas to achieve similar results). These parameters are mainly associated with aesthetic aspects of the paintings and therefore cannot be monetized easily. In addition to the familiar concept of technical feasibility of alternatives, the aesthetic aspects of the paints needs to be fully taken into account due to their role in painting/production of art. There is a strong assertion from public consultation that the alternatives are not of equal value.
We'll just have to wait and see now whether the revised position statement is agreed.

More consultation

Its proposals not to proceed with the ban are also now out for consultation.

Interested parties are invited to submit comments on the draft opinion by 8 February 2015.

Health & Safety Implications for Artists

Professional practices - and health and safety

One important finding arising out of the consultation related to health and safety - and the need to improve artists' professional practices re. how they work.
Public consultation has also revealed that some users of artists’ paints containing Cd are not aware of the potential hazards to environment and human health. An alternative risk management option would therefore be labeling the paint tubes with appropriate warnings and instructions on disposal.
Interestingly a survey of artists practices submitted by Golden Paints during the consultation highlighted the following (my use of bold)
  • On the other hand there are artists making efforts to avoid release of paint during usage. In a survey received during public consultation 64% (based on 500 respondees out of the total of approximately 1000) of the EU respondents claim they take steps to minimise the amount paint released to the waste water:
  • 39% responders to the survey stated they prevent all cadmium from going into the wastewater system. Methods specified included utilization of hazardous waste ollection events or services; letting cleaning water evaporate and disposing of solids as solid waste or reusing residue in artwork; using waterless cleaning methods; and on-site disposal.
  • 35% indicated that they do wash brushes in the sink, but are careful to first wipe or pre-clean (using solvent, or waterless cleaner) excess paint from the brushes, allow it to dry and then dispose of it in the trash or reuse it in artwork.
  • 12% replied that they use disposable palettes, or that excess paint is allowed to dry on the palette, scraped off and disposed of in the trash.
  • 8% considered their careful and sparing use of cadmium colors as waste minimization.
  • 5% attempt to filter or decant wastewater prior to disposal. 

The use of the word Cadmium

One fascinating result related to the use of the word Cadmium
The product assortment of two online stores (www.winsornewton.com and www.sennelier.fr) was analyzed by the dossier submitter for cadmium free paints. In these stores 24 unique pigments were found in products that were cadmium free but where the names of the products contained the word cadmium. 
Which rather provokes the question of how many of those who protested the ban did so because they used paint that had Cadmium on the label but in fact contained no Cadmium whatsoever!

QUESTION: Do you KNOW whether or not you use cadmium in your paints? Have you ever checked?

A commentary on speaking up - by artists - and on behalf of artists

Dr Oakley considers the number of responses to the proposed consultation to be shockingly weak. As a veteran of many public consultations I have to advise Dr Oakley that I was actually quite impressed that the consultation generated as many as 600 comments!

What he describes as having in his analysis happened is more or less what usually happens.
  • There are a relatively small number of relevant and representative organisations that submit thorough and detailed responses - which tend to be very influential. 
  • A lot of organisations do a "in principle' nod for or against a proposal but rarely provide a thorough explanation as to why
  • A number of private individuals respond who provide responses which range from the very detailed to the perfunctory.
Dr Oakley says most of the responses came from private individuals - which is probably not surprising given the publicity the proposed ban received.
ECHA received over 600 comments, thanks to the support mobilised by news in publications and blogs. However, the vast majority of those were from private individuals, were very brief, and basically said that artists could not find suitable substitutes and the proposal was disproportionate. Whilst the volume certainly impressed the rapporteurs, their effect was in all other respects weak.
If you would like to

What I wasn't expecting to see or read in Dr Oakley's email was his extremely pointed criticism of the role of organisations purporting to represent the interests of artists
There did not appear to be a single comment from any of the many institutions purporting to represent painters or artists in any country in the EU.
Here is a summary of his comments based on his analysis of those who responded

Substantial comments

Individuals and just a few manufacturers responded
  • Remarkably few substantial comments (enclosed documents or dossiers). 
  • Five came from individuals (Dr Oakley was one such)
  • Water and environmental organisations sent 4, all in support of the proposal. 
  • Individual paint manufacturers - Schmincke, Royal Talens, and Golden (US) - submitted three, with the Golden comments being a valuable user survey. 
  • The International Cadmium Association submitted several comments and extensive documents/dossiers, and was by far the most vociferous.

Comments from art schools and art societies

  • The Royal College of Art submitted a brief comment - and was the only art school to do so. This is surprising given the critical comments made about the lack of guidance by art schools on the cleaning of brushes after the use of cadmium paint - and how it can be restricted from entering the waste water (and hence Sewage sludge and then food)
  • less than five art societies responded - and these included a couple of village based art groups!
  • Organisations which did NOT respond included:
    • the Royal Academy of Arts - Dr Oakley highlights that the RA describes itself as "a voice for art and artists since 1768"
    • the Royal Watercolour Societies and other national, London based art societies apparently did not respond in any way
He poses this question in relation to the EU control of cadmium, cobalt etc
If there is no-one prepared to present the case for painters in the UK or EU, we will always be easy targets. Do the RA and others actually care, or have they become the new Salons?
Personally, I think he's asking a reasonable question.
  • Art schools should be promoting good practices in relation to health and safety and 
  • Art societies should be about more than just annual exhibitions.

QUESTIONS: But will it ever change?  What do you think?
  • Are you pleased with the result
  • Are you surprised by what did NOT happen in relation to those making representations?
  • Who is best placed to represent the views of artists on such matters?
  • Will artists ever have an effective voice acting on their behalf?
FOR THE RECORD:  These are the main organisations and articles that made a difference in terms of communicating with artists about the proposed ban - and I'm proud to say this blog was one of the early responders!


  1. Could someone of standing in the artworld suggest that the RA canvasses all their members to send an open letter to the Eu body considering this subject, saying why they think it important that cadmium should be available in artists quality paints. If the letter were then signed by enough highly recognised artists in the establishment then surely this would give some gravitas to the discussion.

  2. Good point - in an era when I can sign petitions to the government via new campaigning bodies such as change.org and 38 degrees - which actually do change government policy and plans - is it beyond the wit of artists to find a way to represent artists which is as effective?

    I know this sort of thing is not the sort of thing that artists do - however I personally found it interesting that when a few get together to publicise what is happening there was a positive response from artists.


COMMENTS HAVE BEEN CLOSED AGAIN because of too much spam.
My blog posts are always posted to my Making A Mark Facebook Page and you can comment there if you wish.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.