Is Titanium Dioxide Dangerous?

We recently took a close look at titanium dioxide (Ti02).This naturally occurring oxide of titanium is very useful in our everyday lives, appearing in everything from sunscreen and pigments to opacifiers used in a range of industrial applications.

What happens, then, when this extremely common substance comes under scrutiny by a well-respected governing body? That’s exactly what is going on. The European Union (EU) has issued an advisory warning on the use of titanium dioxide. This warning comes from its regulatory body that weighs in on such issues, Europe’s Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC).

An “advisory opinion” from the RAC could ultimately influence the designation of titanium dioxide and place it on the EU’s list of carcinogens, naming it a category 2 carcinogen.

A category 2 carcinogen, according to the EU, is a substance that studies show may cause cancer in humans and animals but lacks convincing enough evidence to categorize it as a category 1A or 1B carcinogen. To put it in perspective with a chemical many people have heard of, formaldehyde has been classified as a category 2 carcinogen by the EU.

It’s very important to note that this potential classification is discussing only the microparticle form of titanium dioxide. Consumers will never interact with titanium dioxide in that form–by the time the substance reaches market it’s always included in something, like when it’s suspended in a pigment. Regardless, this opinion is likely to have far-reaching implications.

According to a press release distributed by the Canadian Paint and Coatings Association (CPCA), over 60% of production paints currently contain titanium dioxide. If the final opinion is issued and titanium dioxide is listed as a carcinogen, this will have far-reaching effects on many industries worldwide because of the ubiquitous nature of titanium dioxide.

This potential designation of titanium dioxide as a carcinogen only extends to the dust as a potentially cancer-causing substance in humans. Nonetheless, any designation would cause consumers and the general public to start questioning the safety of this very common substance.

Before a final opinion is given, more testing will be performed through a regulatory body called Classification, Labeling, and Packaging regulation, also know as CLP. Through this process, the EU determines the toxicological implications of a substance–in this case, titanium dioxide at the microparticle level. When titanium dioxide is included in a final product, this dust will either be not present or be fully embedded in a material. Because the dust is likely to come into contact with workers and in associated industries, the EU seeks to determine the exact toxicology of this titanium dioxide dust.

Opinions such as this one pending with the EU impact our lives far more than we realize. Other examples include banning substances like BPA, putting strict limits on phthalates, and establishing safety criteria for consumer products like ROHS. Additionally, if manufacturers are forced to rethink how their products are made it can cause more expensive ingredients to be required, therefore the products themselves become more expensive.

This is sure to have widely-sweeping implications regardless of the final opinion. Even if the EU does not list the compound as a carcinogen, the safety of the substance has already been called into question. More testing will need to be performed in the future. Above all, great science must be used to ensure that the critical data sets required to settle this debate are obtained.