Paint pigments have been around since prehistoric early artwork and have evolved to what they are today. Pigments come in a variety of types from those that are naturally occurring mineral-based (iron oxide, clay-based, carbon black, zinc, etc) to the synthesized pigments of today. The earliest synthetic pigments contained lead (white) and copper silicate (Egyptian blue). As other synthetic pigment colors were created, cadmium and chromium became popular.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission banned lead-based paints for use in the US in 1978 (16 Code of Federal Regulations CFR 1303). The European Union followed with a ban in 1992.
Lead poisoning is the leading environmentally induced illness in children under the age of six because of their rapid physiological and neurological development. The most common source of lead-poisoning is from degradation of lead-based paint in the home; additional sources include contaminated dust from ambient sources such as motor vehicles and industrial emissions, contaminated soils, and drinking water from plumbing materials.
Today, lead-based paint and motor vehicle emmissions are no longer the leading sources of lead pollution in air, but industrial sources are the primary cause. The highest level of lead emissions comes from lead-smelting industries, waste incineration, utilities, and lead-acid battery manufacturers.
Primer paint containing hexavalent chromium is still widely used for aerospace and automobile refinishing applications. Zinc chromate has been used as a pigment for artists paint, known as Zinc Yellow or Yellow 36. It is highly toxic and now rarely used. Exposure may result in respiratory ailments.
Exposure to hexavalent chromium occurs mainly among workers who handle pigments containing dry chromate, spray paints and coatings containing chromate, operate chrome plating baths, and weld or cut metals containing chromium, such as stainless steel. Workers who inhale these compounds at their jobs over many years may be at increased risk of developing lung cancer. Breathing high levels can irritate or damage the nose, throat, and lungs. Irritation or damage to the eyes and skin can occur if it contacts these organs in high concentrations or for a prolonged period of time.
Cadmium is found in some industrial paints and may present a hazard when spraying applications are employed, additional risks are possible when removing cadmium based paints by scraping or blasting methods.
The most common uses for cadmium are ore smelting, electroplating and some types of batteries. Cadmium emits a characteristic brown fume (CdO) when heated, which is relatively non-irritating, and thus does not alarm the exposed individual. Several deaths from acute exposure have occurred among welders who have unsuspectingly welded on cadmium-containing alloys or worked with silver solders.
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