EU Restrictions on the use of Cadmium Pigments



Current situation

In Europe, Cadmium pigments may not be used in the following 16 plastics unless the application is deemed to be a safety application. Notably, the list does allow the use of Cd pigments in certain other polymers even for non-safety applications.

  • polymers or copolymers of vinyl chloride (PVC) [3904 10] [3904 21]
  • polyurethane (PUR) [3909 50]
  • low-density polyethylene (LDPE), with the exception of low-density polyethylene used for the production of coloured masterbatch [3901 10]
  • cellulose acetate (CA) [3912 11]
  • cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB) [3912 11]
  • epoxy resins [3907 30]
  • melamine-formaldehyde (MF) resins [3909 20]
  • urea-formaldehyde (UF) resins [3909 10]
  • unsaturated polyesters (UP) [3907 91]
  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET) [3907 60]
  • polybutylene terephthalate (PBT)
  • transparent/general-purpose polystyrene [3903 11]
  • acrylonitrile methylmethacrylate (AMMA)
  • cross-linked polyethylene (VPE) — high-impact polystyrene — polypropylene (PP) [3902 10]
  • high-impact polystyrene
  • polypropylene (PP) [3902 10]

Legislative History

Based on the "precautionary principle", the EU produced Directive 91/338/EEC which gave a list of polymers in which the use cadmium as a colourant was not permitted. This was subsequently replaced by an identical entry (number 23) in Annex XVII of REACH.

In 2010, the Commission produced a draft update of the cadmium restrictions. In line with the outcome of risk assessments carried out some years before under Regulation 793/893, the only additions proposed covered the use of cadmium in brazing rods and jewellery. As industry agreed with these proposals we made no comments on the draft.

The final version (Regulation 494/2011) published in May 2011, rather than being the same as the draft, included a few words which effectively replaced the limited list of polymers in which cadmium could not be used with a "catch-all" covering all polymers. The general 'safety exemption' still remained, which allowed the use of cadmium pigments in any polymer where the colouring was being used for safety reasons.

Industry quickly pointed out to the Commision that they had not carried out any risk assessment covering the use of these pigments in plastics and, therefore, had no evidence of "an unacceptable risk to human health or to the environment ... which needs to be addressed on a Community-wide basis." (REACH Article 68 section 1). This is an absolute legal requirement for adding or amending any restriction.

It was hoped that the Commission would be able to make some change to Regulation 494/2011 which would correct matters : unfortunately this did not happen and, as there was a only limited window within which legal action could be taken, industry and the International Cadmium Association launched a case against the Commission. Some time after this had been done Regulation 835/2012 was published which effectively reset the position to its "pre-494/2011" state.

The legal process was quite involved, both parties making their final presentations at the EU General Court in Luxembourg in the middle of 2013 - the court published its judgement on 14th November . The decision was in industry's favour and the court agreed that the Commission had not produced a proper risk assessment. Paragraph 52 is the most important and it reads as follows:

"In this connection, where experts carry out a scientific evaluation of the risks, the Commission must be given sufficiently reliable and cogent information to allow it to understand the ramifications of the scientific question raised and decide upon a policy in full knowledge of the facts. Consequently, if it is not to adopt arbitrary measures, which cannot in any circumstances be rendered legitimate by the precautionary principle, the Commission must ensure that any measures that it takes, even preventive measures, are based on as thorough a scientific evaluation of the risks as possible, account being taken of the particular circumstances of the case at issue."

Regulation 835/2012 required the Commission to ask ECHA to carry out a risk assessment on the use of these pigments in plastics. The Agency started the process and made two appeals for evidence on this type of use. On 17th January 2014, however, the Agency announced that it would not be submitting a proposal to restrict cadmium and its compounds in plastics. It did not indicate the reason for this decision.

Artist's Colours

The highest quality professional artist's colours contain Cd pigments as these shades are necessary to achieve certain colour characteristics for the professional artist's palette.

In late 2013 the Swedish chemicals agency (Kemi) announced that it intended to propose restrictions on the use of cadmium pigments in Artist’s Colours. This was made public by ECHA in January 2014. Since then, James M. Brown has worked closely with the International Cadmium Association (ICdA), CEPE and our customers to assess the accuracy and relevance of the points raised within the Kemi dossier. Our conclusion remains that there is no risk to human health or the environment from our carefully engineered, non-hazardous pigments.

Following a comprehensive public consultation, the recommendation of the two ECHA committees was to reject the restrictions proposed by Kemi and we have now received confirmation that the European Commission will not amend Annex XVII of REACH to restrict the use of cadmium pigment in artist's paints. We are delighted to report this excellent news and we would like to thank all participants for their contribution to this positive outcome. Our final statement on this topic may be found below and contains the communication from the commission confirming their rejection of the proposal:

October 2015

Paints & Other


Cadmium pigments may not be used in paints within the EU which fall within Common Customs Tariff numbers 3208 and 3209.

Other Applications

Use of cadmium pigments in ceramics, enamels and glass is not affected by this legislation.

Please note that the restrictions outlined here apply only in the European Union. If you would like further information or guidance, please feel free to contact us.

Further details regarding the use of cadmium pigments can be found in other information pages on our website.

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