CEO blog – Titanium dioxide – it’s about the risk, not the hazard

Last Friday we heard the news that the European Chemical Agency’s Risk Assessment Committee gave a draft opinion that titanium dioxide is a suspected carcinogen (category 2) by inhalation of TiO2 powder.  This does sound really serious – and it is concerning, but not for the reasons that one might initially think.

It goes without saying that the paint, coatings, printing inks and wallcovering industries have always taken their responsibility for health, safety and the environment as their highest priority and have ensured that products meet the highest health and safety standards.

For the non-scientists amongst you, titanium dioxide is an inert inorganic compound that is used as a white pigment in many industrial applications. These applications include the manufacture of paints, coatings, printing inks and wallcoverings where titanium dioxide plays a critical role in providing essential product properties: whiteness, covering power, brightness, stability, and durability of colour that cannot be achieved with other raw materials. Titanium dioxide is also used in many other consumer products.  

So, should users of consumer products like paints, coatings and printing inks, and other household products like toothpaste, sunscreen, and plastic food packaging be concerned?  Should factory workers, who are exposed to TiO2 every day be concerned?

The answer to both questions is NO.  

The powder form of titanium dioxide presents no risk to consumers when incorporated in a finished product. Consumers and professionals using paint or ink products cannot be exposed to the powder form of titanium dioxide, once it is embedded into a paint or printing ink.  Yet the “hazard” based nature of the CLP labelling rules will mean that consumer products like paint containing titanium dioxide (and that’s most of them) would have to be labelled as “suspected of causing cancer”, unless industry can lobby for an exemption or a reversal of the decision.  This to me is an example where European regulations rightly get a bad name, as labelling paints as “suspected of causing cancer” would not only cause unnecessary concern amongst users, but also impact our ability to recycle paints at the end of their life, for example.

Workers using TiO2 powder should also not panic.  During the manufacturing process, it is true that exposure to titanium dioxide powder might occur.  However, both at the EU and national level, regulations exist concerning dust exposure and protection of workers. Studies over many years have not found any correlation between workers exposed to titanium dioxide, and the risk of lung cancer.  In addition, the tests on rats cited by ECHA used unrealistically high amounts of titanium dioxide that would not be allowed in a manufacturing environment, and these tests would not even be permitted under current testing standards.  Based on this, BCF and CEPE consider the use of titanium dioxide in paints, coatings, printing inks and wallcoverings to be safe for workers during the manufacturing process. This is further supported by the ongoing commitment of BCF and CEPE member companies to take every precaution to ensure the safety of their products and workers throughout their supply chain.

The unintended consequence of this decision, that we will have to label consumer products as “suspected of causing cancer” when the risk applies to a substance (TiO2) that is no longer in the same form (powder) which allegedly makes it carcinogenic (by inhalation) is a clear example where making our chemicals regulations more risk based would avoid this kind of ridiculous situation.  Given the importance of TiO2 to the UK economy (estimated at £12 billion and 1 million workers), I hope (and believe) we will be successful in gaining an exemption to having our products labelled in this way.  We are also arguing a more technical point that the reason why the rats in the study got cancer was due to lung overload, which could be caused by any non-soluble dust, and therefore should be treated as an occupational health issue, where dust limits across Europe are re-evaluated.  We still have some way to go in the process, and much work to do as associations behind the scenes, but rest assured we will not rest until the battle is won.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Joey Leung

    More consumers should hear about this. Nice insight and understanding, thanks!

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