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Titanium Dioxide Powder to Get Cancer Warning

Friday, October 11, 2019

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Late last week, the European Commission officially decided to classify titanium dioxide in its powder form as a substance that is “suspected of causing cancer in humans.”

Some Background

The European Chemicals Agency’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) announced June 9, 2017, 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.

This followed a France dossier that recommended 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.

Ondrej Mangl, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Late last week, the European Commission officially decided to classify titanium dioxide in its powder form as a substance that is “suspected of causing cancer in humans.”

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.

Many in the coatings industry, including the American Coatings Association, oppose the measure.

The ACA issued a statement following the RAC’s 2017 announcement 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 read. “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.

The Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association, which represents the TiO2 industry, has also previously 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.”

© / 4x-images

Late last month, the Commission said after an expert hearing that it would likely follow through with the classification, despite the objections.

The REACH Committee of the European Commission met several times to discuss the matter over the spring, without coming to a majority decision, which put the assessment in the hands of the Commission now in the fall.

Late last month, the Commission said after an expert hearing that it would likely follow through with the classification, despite the objections.

In a response to that, the ACA released a statement saying that it is concerned about “the potential precedent set by such a decision" and says that the basis for classifying TiO2 as a cancer hazard is unjustified.

What Now

On Oct. 4, the Commission moved forward with the classification.

With the new regulation, titanium dioxide products that are in powder form containing 1% or more of the substance with aerodynamic diameter of 10μm or less are required to carry a cancer warning on the label.

For other forms and mixtures, the classification suggests specific notes to inform the consumer of precautionary measures that should be taken to minimize hazard.

The European Parliament and Council of Ministers have two months to object to the ruling. If no objection is lodged, the classification undergoes an 18-month transitional period before fully coming into effect—in this instance it would start being enforced in the summer of 2021.


Tagged categories: Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); EU; Government; Health and safety; Pigments; Regulations; Safety; Titanium dioxide

Comment from Gregory Stoner, (10/11/2019, 8:06 AM)

Am I hearing this right?? If this is cancer causing and painters have been sanding it for years?? How much is to much?

Comment from Robert Bullard, (10/11/2019, 9:59 AM)

My real world tests of several photocatalytic titanium dioxide untinted paints were failures, all developing major amounts of mold growth in about two years in tropical conditions.

Comment from Gordon Kuljian, (10/11/2019, 11:28 AM)

great - TiO2 is used in sunscreens, is a food additive and in toothpaste, among other common things...

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/11/2019, 11:32 AM)

While the classification makes sense logically (very small inorganic particles have a long history of being problematic for human health with asbestos / asbestosis & mesothelioma and silica / silicosis being prime examples), I think the classification essentially mandates that additional testing needs to be carried out to confirm or refute its standing. If confirmed, then Gregory Stoner's comment becomes exceptionally relevant as it will apply to a large swath of individuals involved in the coatings industry.

Comment from Karl Kardel, (10/11/2019, 1:57 PM)

I agree with previous comment, all fine and not so fine particulates are health endangering. Whether tio2 is a direct carcinogen such as lead, or asbestos is a bit reckless. Suffice to say all inhalation of particles from milling, sanding, grinding is directly unhealthy. EU has already done damage by without evidence called Round a 'probable' cancer causing material. With billions of gallons sprayed, should there not be a significant statistic of cancer? Karl Kardel Consultancy

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (10/15/2019, 10:58 AM)

Karl, the only caveat I would have to your comment is that sprayed TiO2 is not usually in the dry powder form. With asbestos, unless the fibres are released into the air, the risk is very low...if you have a commercial countertop with asbestos in it, unless you grind it up, it's reasonably safe as the fibres are trapped in the matrix and not friable. Similarly, when trapped in a matrix such as a coating, I would expect the same of titanium dioxide and anticipate (though this would need research) that it is only the loose, dry powder or the dust from sanding a TiO2 coating that would be a concern (just like loose, asbestos fibres).

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/16/2019, 8:39 AM)

Karl - it's not just the EU finding Roundup is likely to cause cancer: - it's not like corporations have hidden health risks from their products in the past to promote sales, is it? Excepting tobacco, leaded gasoline, leaded paint, radium painted watches, Oxycontin, faulty ignition switches.... Hmmm.... Might be a pattern there.

Comment from john lienert, (10/17/2019, 7:49 AM)

Are these the same people that wanted me to throw away my BBQ many yrs ago ?

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (10/17/2019, 8:12 AM)

John, grilling meats does increase some compounds which are a cancer risk. For me, the risk is low enough that I still enjoy grilling from time to time. Just because there is a risk doesn't mean you are required to stop the activity - though making a big deal of it in the media gets more clickthroughs. People still skydive, drive on racetracks and smoke. Some details on the risks of grilled meats:

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