Good news for users of Cadmium Pigments
Following a thorough review at the end of the 1990s, the EU voted for no further restrictions on the marketing and use of cadmium pigments for use in plastics, halting the trend of reducing the number of applications in which these pigments are permitted.
Cadmium pigments have exceptional properties, most especially for colouring engineering polymers and cover the whole colour range from green-shade yellows, through yellows, oranges and reds to deep maroons. However, in recent years their use for pigmentation of plastics and paints has been restricted by legislation aimed at protecting the environment. It is well known that soluble cadmium species can adversely affect the environment and man if critical levels are exceeded, but on the other hand cadmium pigments are extremely insoluble compounds. The environmental legislation was based on the "precautionary principle". In the absence of information about releases associated with cadmium pigments or of data that was either definitive or accurate about the risks involved, the legislation sought to remain on the safe side by substituting for cadmium-containing products where technically feasible alternatives exist.
In 1995, the European Union recognised the inadequacy of the existing data and the Commission instituted an assessment from an independent consultant to evaluate the cradle-to-grave lifecycle of cadmium pigments. Overall, it is known that the main releases of cadmium into the environment are from the burning of fossil fuels and the use of phosphate fertilisers.
In the decades prior to the 1960's, levels of cadmium in the environment had been increasing with increasing industrialisation, but the levels have fallen dramatically since 1970, and the dose to man had remained all the time much lower than that set as safe by the World Health Organisation. Cadmium emissions associated with pigments represent a negligible fraction (less than 0.5 %) of the total emissions of cadmium to the environment. A thorough scientific assessment of the risks was completed under Regulation 793/93 ("existing chemicals") and concluded that the emissions from the cadmium pigment lifecycle do not pose any significant risk to man or to the environment. On this basis, the European Commission did not recommend any further restrictions, and the member states voted accepting this.
The advent of REACH in the EU introduced a whole new level of control of chemicals : many substances which were previously thought to be innocuous have been classified as hazardous.
Cadmium pigments were registered under REACH in May 2013 and the extensive information and test data collected not did lead to any hazard classification - either for human health or the environment.
Despite all the above, the EU has left in place its original restrictions - made using the 'precautionary principle' before reliable data was thought to be available : please therefore also see 'EU restrictions on the use of cadmium pigments'.