5 March 2016


"Cadmium yellow not banned by EU." That's an even less exciting headline than "Small earthquake: few hurt. " But for artists it's significant.

Cadmium is a toxic metal and an environmental hazard. In 2013, Sweden proposed to the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prohibit its sale in artists' paints in the EU and to prohibit the use of such paints. Artists were up in arms. Brushes and palettes to the barricades! For cadmium produces an intense yellow and art would be insipid without it.

Quietly and without much fuss, the artists have had their day. After careful evaluation by ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment and Committee for Socioeconomic Analysis, the European Commission has decided that the presence of cadmium in artists' paints does not present an unacceptable risk to human health. "Accordingly, the restriction procedure initiated by Sweden is terminated."

As it happens, I'm not affected, because the yellow I use in my ceramics is based on praseodymium and lead antimoniate.  Lead antimoniate is the Naples Yellow beloved of the old masters, a rich egg-yolk yellow. In ceramics there's nothing quite like it. I've experimented with other stains, which are a lot cheaper, but they don't satisfy me .

Praeseodymium is not toxic, but lead antimoniate is deadly and Naples Yellow has been made for a long time from chromium titanate instead. Potters' suppliers don't sell it at all, but despite its extreme toxicity it's available as an artist's pigment from Cornelissen, the old artists' supplier in Great Russell Street, London (pictured), and as far as I know the government of Sweden has  not asked for it to be banned.

The first thing I was taught at college, in Prof. Nigel Wood's lecture on ceramic toxicology, was, "Everything you use in ceramics will kill you if you don't use it properly," so I have strict safety procedures in my studio. Despite Naples Yellow, I'm going to be around for a while. _______________________________________________