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Cadmium Paint Will Not be Banned Across Europe - Artist can Still use Yellows, Oranges and Maroons

  • cadmium paint
October 30, 2015

When I first read this news, my mind went straight to my childhood. One of the most bizarre things that I have seen up to that point was the scene of Alice in Wonderland (no surprise there), when cards go to repaint and dye over petals of white roses, to make them red. “We’re painting the roses red”, cards sing along: “The Queen she likes ’em red / If she saw white instead / She’d raise a fuss / And each of us / Would quickly lose his head”. Remember that? If I’m not mistaking, the crazy Queen of Hearts cut off their heads nevertheless, but European artists, luckily, were not cut off from their favorite colors, since European politicians decided that they won’t ban cadmium pigment, that is essential ingredient of many basic colors, such as yellow, orange and maroon.

cadmium paint
Cadmium Yellow

Heavy Metal Pollution

What was it all about? In 2014, Sweden alarmed the European Chemical Agency, claiming that cadmium, which is actually a heavy metal (and not in a musical way), is polluting Swedish fields and Swedish waters, thus polluting the whole food chain – eventually people as well. This toxic substance is quite dangerous, since it increases the risk of cancer, and decreases the amount of calcium in bones, thus, which leads to bones fractures, among other illness. So, the European Union took this report seriously and launched an investigation to determine if cadmium should be banned.

cadmium paint
Cadmium Orange

Favorite Colors of Great Artists

But, hey, where did this cadmium come from? Approximately, one half of world’s entire production of cadmium is used for producing colored cadmium pigments – around 2,000 tons per year. So, in essence, Swedish authorities wrote to the European Chemical Agency that artists were rinsing their brushes in the sink, and by doing that, they have polluted water and soil with cadmium. The fear spread among artists in Europe that all of them could be denied in using some of the most beautiful colors, that were being used for centuries now by the great artists from the past. Golden yellows, fiery oranges, scarlet reds – those were the hues that inspired Max Ernst, Joan Miró or Paul Gauguin. Claude Monet was particularly known for being fond of using cadmium paint, as well as Van Gogh (Sunflowers) and Edvard Munch (The Scream). Cadmium was discovered in 1817, but was not commercially used since around 1840’s. Since then, cadmium colors were considered even revolutionary, because of the great power and spectacular effects they created on canvas.

cadmium paint
Cadmium paints

Cadmium Pigments – Safe, for Now

However, the artists and art equipment producers and suppliers stood up, claiming that artists were not the ones that are polluting nature with cadmium – pure cadmium is highly toxic, they’ve said, but the cadmium compounds used by artists are not classified as hazardous. Obviously, they were aiming at that other half of cadmium production, that belongs to – nickel-cadmium batteries, which are considered as big polluters, not only in Europe, but world-wide. So, after the extensive public consultations among artists, politicians, and paint-makers, European politicians have announced on October 28th that they won’t enforce an Europe-wide ban on cadmium. Batteries, be prepared to suffer some big batteries soon.

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