06 October 2019 Business

Brussels ruling will hit production of white inks and coatings

Paper and ink producers are watching the European Commission closely as it has to rule on changing the status of titanium dioxide, the key compound of white ink production.

The European Commission is on course to rule that titanium dioxide is a probable carcinogenic compound, putting pressure on the ink and paper industry to find alternatives to the white pigment.

The EC wants the miners compound to be reclassified as a category 2 hazardous substance in powder form where it can be inhaled. There will be no change in classification when titanium dioxide is used in liquid and therefore inks, paints and coatings will have to carry a phrase relating to risks when spraying, but will not have to be labelled as suspected of causing cancer by inhalation.

But there is a risk of guilt by association, if brand owners refuse to sanction the use of white inks containing titanium dioxide, even though there is no risk in liquid formulations. “This will be a major issue for the printing ink industry, especially for flexible packaging,” Tom Bowtell, chief executive of the British Coatings Federation, warns.

The BCF is leading a campaign against the ruling, asking members to sign a letter proposing a rethink. Even though the real impact will be confined to coating in powder form “our industry still has many concerns about the potential classification” he says.

There is a major impact on powder coatings, perhaps used in paper manufacture. This will hit waste and toy regulations and sets a precedent for around 300 similar poorly soluble, low toxic products. The safe exposure levels will be set so low that expensive closed production processes will be needed; warnings about spraying paint is disproportionate as domestic paint is rarely sprayed and there have been no increased cases of cancer in titanium dioxide manufacture, paint or ink factories in the last 50 years.

However, it appears that the current Commission leadership wants to change the status of the pigment before it steps down at the end of October, the deadline also for Brexit set by the UK prime minister.

Titanium dioxide is the key pigment compound used in all white inks and in bright white and smooth coatings for paper. There are few easily adoptable universal alternatives that deliver all the characteristics of the mineral compound. Unsurprisingly, there is a great deal of work trying to turn up an answer before time runs out for titanium dioxide.

Bowtell adds: “The industry has investigated alternatives to titanium dioxide over the years, mainly due to the high price, but it has unique properties in terms of opacity, coverage and UV blocking, so I do not envisage the industry moving away from TiO2. Alternative pigments would result in needing up to four times as many layers of paint or ink to achieve the same coverage, so a very poor sustainability outcome.”
The pressure on the European Commission brings to head a process which has been gathering pace over the last two years after the Reach Assessment Committee concluded that titanium dioxide is “suspected of causing cancer (by inhalation)”. None of separate committees under Reach has since been able to agree a course of action, opening prospects for a universal ban more likely.

If the Commission decides to rule against its use the consequences of any action across the EU is expected to come into place in July 2021.

However, the Titanium Dioxide Manufacturers Association is pointing out that the Commission has not consulted widely enough, something that industry bodies are agreeing with. The British Coatings Federation, for example, has circulated the letter the TDMA has drafted and has received signatories and comments from its members in paint and ink industries.

“Fundamentally, we believe it is a safe and inert pigment, and that workers are already sufficiently protected by existing workplace dust exposure limits, which are many many times below the overload conditions used in the evidence cited in the classification decision,” says Bowtell.

Any regulation will apply in the UK regardless of Brexit. In the latest survey of its membership, the BCF found that 80% of members fear there will be delays at borders and 82% fear they will have no influence on regulations drawn up by the European Chemicals Agency.

Even after the UK quits the EU, more than 92% of the membership wants to retain free access to EU markets and 88% want to remain in line with European Reach regulations. Bowtell says: “The UK coatings industry has made significant preparations ahead of a “no deal” Brexit, with 88% of members stating that they have already done some planning in the event of a no deal Brexit.

“These preparations have taken various forms, with 79% building inventory of raw materials and 60% of respondents discussing contingency plans with logistics suppliers. As the industry body, we have been providing members with updated information regarding UK versions of regulations and plans for procedures at the border. “

The preparation means that 61% reckon they are somewhat confident that their supply chains can withstand a no deal Brexit and 15% are very confident.

By Gareth Ward

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Titanium dioxide is being labelled a probable carcinogen when inhaled by the European Commission. But ink, paint and paper makers are fighting back to point out that there is no hard evidence of increased deaths due to exposure to the compound.

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