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Carcinogen Label Considered for TiO2

Thursday, June 15, 2017

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Titanium dioxide has gotten closer to being labeled as a substance that is “suspected of causing cancer,” drawing criticism from some in the coatings industry who say the classification is not warranted.

The European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) announced June 9 that it concluded that TiO2, a substance commonly used in paints, construction materials and other industrial and consumer goods, meets the criteria to be classified as a suspected cause of cancer via inhalation, under Category 2.

Titanium dioxide
Ondrej Mangl, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

European regulators are considering Category 2 carcinogen classification for titanium dioxide, a white inorganic substance that occurs naturally in several kinds of rock and mineral sands and is used in the manufacture of some paints and coatings as well as consumer goods.

The RAC’s advisory opinion will be submitted to the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, which has the power to regulate chemicals within the EU. The European Commission can accept or reject the recommendation of the RAC.

French Dossier

Last year, France submitted a dossier recommending cancer labeling for TiO2. At the time, French regulators argued that the substance is likely a Category 1B carcinogen, meaning it is known to cause cancer in humans. The French regulatory body ANSES sought “harmonized classification” for the substance across the entire EU.

The RAC’s recommendation that it be classed in Category 2 means the body believes TiO2 is a suspected carcinogen and should be treated as if it causes cancer, but stops short of calling the substance a known carcinogen.

TiO2, a white inorganic substance, occurs naturally in several kinds of rock and mineral sands and has been used in many products for decades. It can be manufactured for use as a pigment or as a nanomaterial.

Coatings Industry Response

The American Coatings Association issued a statement Monday (June 12) asserting that the recommendation is unfounded. “There is considerable industry concern that the basis for the opinion is flawed and does not inform on risk to humans,” the statement reads. “It is important to consider that the risks profiled are not attributable formulated products, like paint, where TiO2 dust is embedded in the mixture.”

In the coatings industry, TiO2 is most notably used as a white pigment, in industrial and protective coatings as well as architectural paints. The ACA has repeatedly expressed concerns that all paint products containing the substance could be labeled as carcinogens under the EU’s classification system.

Wind turbine
© / 4x-images

In the coatings industry, TiO2 is most notably used as a white pigment, in industrial and protective coatings as well as architectural paints.

The Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association (TDMA), which represents the TiO2 industry, issued a statement expressing its disappointment in the recommendation.

“The scientific evidence is clear: There are no grounds for classifying TiO2 as carcinogenic for humans by inhalation,” said Robert Bird, chairman of the TDMA. “Also, classification would do nothing to increase the level of protection of human health and the environment, which is the whole point of the labelling and classification system.”

Cancer in Rats

According to ANSES, studies “demonstrate that titanium dioxide can cause malignant tumors in rats following exposure by inhalation. A sufficient level of evidence means that titanium dioxide can be considered as a proven carcinogen in animals in light of the experimental data. In humans, the carcinogenic nature continues to be discussed due to the methodological limitations of the available epidemiological studies.”

The TDMA argues that the data from tests done on rats cannot be extrapolated to humans.

“In the studies considered by the RAC, the effects observed were specific to the rat and have not been seen in scientific studies on any other species, including humans, as they relate to a mode of action that only occurs in rats,” the association said in its statement. “These effects in rats are only observed via inhalation at an exposure level many times higher than those encountered by workers on a daily basis.”


Tagged categories: American Coatings Association (ACA); Asia Pacific; Coatings Technology; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Government; Health and safety; Latin America; North America; Raw materials; Regulations; Titanium dioxide

Comment from Jesse Melton, (6/15/2017, 6:01 AM)

Another day, another safety industry failure. Things like this have absolutely no benefit for the general public. It's the equivalent of screaming shark while visiting an aquarium.

People are going to panic, as will the news media, and want their houses repainted, the safe sun industry will probably collapse, artists crayons and chalks will be taken out of schools. The repercussions will be significant.

This is simply negligence. Scaring people is a crap way to ensure those agencies keep the money flowing.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/16/2017, 12:31 PM)

While the EU has done some great things in safety (some of their PPE standards put North American ones to shame), I don't think this one qualifies. Other than those workers applying coating containing TiO2, where is the general public going to be exposed to an inhalation hazard? Is the French government prepared for the panic associated with paints, varnishes, paper, plastics, sunscreen, inks and even little candies that include TiO2 in them? Will this become an issue like the chlorination of drinking water? Don't forget, in the name of saving 1 death from chlorine byproducts by removing chlorination, several communities allowed far, far more to succumb to waterborne diseases? As well, are they sure it's the TiO2 itself, or is it like asbestos and silica....small respirable particulate that gets trapped in the lungs which results in carcinogenesis? Based on the research, the mechanism of action is unclear as to whether it is a chemical mechanism (cancer caused by the chemical) or mechanical mechanism (cancer caused by the trapped particles). I think a little more research is needed before they push much further ahead on this one.

Comment from Fred Salome, (6/17/2017, 11:48 PM)

Back in the 1920's, the US National Paint, Oil and Varnish Association successfully influenced the US against ratifying a worldwide ban on use of white lead in paint for domestic interiors, making similar spurious claims about the hazard being embedded in resin, etc. Coupled with strong self-interested industry denials about smoking, asbestos, lead in petrol and even, yes, greenhouse gas emissions, it is not surprising that the public has lost faith in the chemical industry and in scientists in general. Rather than a visceral denial and a shoot-the-messenger response, it would be more appropriate for the paint industry to fully assess the reasons for the new concerns about rutile, and adopt a responsible approach for managing any identified hazards. I doubt that any paint companies would really want to consider future law suits alleging neglect of clear health warnings about the things they continue to put in paints. Anyone still think lead in paint is a good idea?

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