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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The cadmium question

The only cadmium in here is cadmium orange. Peppers, 8X6, oils, by little ol' me.
Yesterday, my favorite color scientist forwarded me this from Golden:

For environmental protection reasons, the European Community is currently considering a ban on cadmium pigments in artist paints. We would like to gather comments from artists concerning the relative importance of these colors in their work, in an effort to better understand the potential effect of this measure.

To complete a brief survey, click here: GOLDEN Cadmium Survey.

I use only one cadmium—orange, For yellows, I prefer Hansa (arylide). For reds, I use naphthol red and quinacridone violet.

That said, losing cadmium orange from my palette would hurt; it’s one of my workhorse pigments in both landscape and figure. I suspect there are substitutes out there, such as pyrrole orange, but I haven’t tried integrating them into my palette.

Mixing your paints and your wine is probably not the healthiest option.
Moreover, the cadmiums are great pigments. Pigments affect technique, and losing the cadmiums, with their great lightfastness and solidity, would be difficult for many painters. Before they toss them out willy-nilly, it’s worth asking what the environmental impact is, and whether their replacements are any safer.

The risk to artists is low, since cadmium poisoning primarily comes from inhalation or ingestion. Unless you’re working in encaustic, you’re unlikely to inhale paint fumes. Pastel artists should already know to use an air cleaner when working indoors. For all painters, gloves or silicone hand lotion is always advisable.

More difficult is that our use of cadmium pigments might endanger others. We all dispose of pigments into the waste stream when we clean brushes. (I just realized this morning that my long-term habit of solidifying waste pigments and putting them in the solid waste stream is counterproductive if my city burns trash for energy.) The stuff also has to be manufactured and milled before it’s turned into paints, and that may be happening in countries where environmental protections are nil.

My palette doesn't even usually include a true red, for the same reason that it doesn't include a true green.
Cadmium is present in cigarettes, and the smoking artist inhales dangerous levels of it every time he or she lights up. It is used in the manufacture of plastics, iron, steel, cement, non-ferrous metals and batteries. What percentage of the overall cadmium stream comes from artists, I don’t know, and it’s an important question. I suspect it’s pretty small, but whether that is a moral green light to keep using it, I can’t say.

As for whether the substitutes are safer or not, that’s also an open question. No known health risks are associated with the other red and yellow pigments I ‘m currently using, but the important caveat is that word, “known.” Recent research, for example, has linked azo pigments with basal cell carcinoma.


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2 comments:

Rachel Uchizono said...

Better stock up on your cadmium orange. There may not be a cadmium question if it is banned.

Carol Douglas said...

True dat.