The European Commission’s authorization hazardous lead chromate color pigments for some industrial uses has been annulled

March 21 2019

On 7 March 2019, The European Court of Justice has annulled the European Commission’s authorization of two hazardous lead chromate color pigments for some industrial uses.

According to ECHA Weekly from March 13 2019, the case was put forward to the Court by the Swedish Government, supported by Denmark, Finland and the European Parliament. It concerned lead sulfochromate yellow and lead chromate molybdate sulfate red, and the judgment agreed with Sweden that the industrial applicant had not proved their claim, that there were no suitable alternatives for its uses.

It was a very important judgment in line with the general impression, that the EC are very friendly and authorizes all ongoing uses of hazardous chemicals, if the industry wishes to continue using those chemicals.

It was September 7 2016 the European Commission implemented its decision according to the REACH legislation to grant a Dutch company authorization of using these chemicals for the following six applications:

  • Distribution and mixing of pigment powder in an industrial environment into solvent-based paints for non-consumer use;
  • Industrial application of paints on metal surfaces (such as machines vehicles, structures, signs, road furniture, coil coating, etc.);
  • Professional, non-consumer application of paints on metal surfaces (such as machines, vehicles, structures, signs, road furniture, etc.) or as road marking;
  • Distribution and mixing pigment powder in an industrial environment into liquid or solid premix to color plastic/plasticized articles for non-consumer use;
  • Industrial use of solid or liquid color premixes and pre-compounds containing pigment to color plastic or plasticized articles for non-consumer use; and
  • Professional use of solid or liquid color premixes and pre-compounds containing pigment in the application of hot melt road marking.

The background of the decision was an opinion by the Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC) and Committee for Socio-economic Analysis (SEAC).

For each of the uses the documentation was also materials from consultations; an example is referenced:

Already on 17 December, 2010, ECHA recommended the inclusion of the three lead chromates in the list of substances of very high concern (Annex XIV) subject to authorization according to the EU (EC) Regulation No. 1907/2006 (REACH). The three substances were actually included in the “Authorization List” with latest application date 21 November 2013 and Sunset Date 21 May 2015.

Properties of the chemicals:

They are yellow, orange or red colored crystalline solids with high melting points (844 oC), and which are insoluble in water (0.17 mg/L for lead chromate and < 0.01 mg/L for the pigments at 20oC). Some data in the table:

Lead chromate pigments have been commercially used for more than 100 years with many trade names. Lead sulfochromate yellow is a variable solid mixed phase crystal, which typically contains 61-76% lead chromate (PbCrO4) and 20-38% lead sulfate (PbSO4). In addition to 69-80% lead chromate and 3-7% lead sulfate, lead chromate molybdate sulfate red/orange may typically contain 5-15% lead molybdate (PbMoO4) and 3-13% lead oxide (PbO), and other components. Furthermore, there is basic lead chromate orange consisting of lead chromate and lead oxide, which seems not to be included in the restriction and court case.

These insoluble pigments have low bioavailability, and at the European market the only uses are in a closed matrix of paints or plastics, where these pigments are stabilized with a coatings and/or encapsulation of e.g. aluminium, silicium or titanium compounds.

Lead chromates are banned in preparations for use to the General Public but still used by professional workers.

Emission into the environment may occur at the production, formulation or re-packing of the pigments, the production of polymers and paints with these pigments added or at disposal/treatment of waste containing used materials containing these pigments.

The lead chromates are hazardous CMR substances:

  • May cause cancer.
  • IARC evaluation (2012): Chromium(VI) compounds are carcinogenic to humans (Group 1)
  • May damage the unborn child and is suspected of damaging fertility
  • May cause an allergic skin reaction
  • May cause allergy or asthma symptoms or breathing difficulties if inhaled
  • Is very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects and may cause damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure.

Danger pictograms:                 

Health Hazard

CLP Classification

Hazard Class and Category Code(s) Hazard Statement Code(s)
Carc. 1B H350
STOT RE 2 H373**
Aquatic Acute 1 H400
Aquatic Chronic 1 H410
Repr. 1A H360Df

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