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Under the REACH regulation, a number of cobalt compounds were registered in 2010 and others are due to be registered in 2013. Such registration also involves a classification on the hazard of the cobalt compounds. For the cobalt compounds used in some types of coatings this classification is under review. The suppliers of these compounds organized in the Cobalt REACH Consortium are carrying out a number of tests and exposure assessments in order to ascertain whether there is a concern for users of coatings.
At present there is no urgent health reason for removing cobalt from coatings as the driers are not currently recognised as having serious chronic health effects.
It should be recognised that the majority of coatings do not contain cobalt; the addition of cobalt driers may be made to alkyd based paints (solvent or waterborne) but not to most acrylic and vinyl emulsions or many other coatings.
The BCF considers the use of wording such as ‘cobalt free’ or ‘no added cobalt’ on paint containers is not helpful, as the respective cobalt compounds have not been officially classified or restricted in use due to serious health effects. In the event of such classification being applied, a supplier of coatings may market a product in which the cobalt compound has been replaced by a substance with a proven less hazardous character. This could then be genuinely considered as a safer product. The recognised hazard of any product can be seen from its label.
In the UK there is a government ‘Green Claims Guidance’ document which was re-issued in February 2011 and in it there is guidance that says: ‘Make sure that a claim is used only in circumstances where there is genuine additional environmental benefit or advantage, which is relevant and significant.’ We believe putting ‘cobalt free’ (or no added cobalt) would not meet this guidance and should therefore not be used on paint sold in the UK. This is also laid down in ISO 14021Environmental labels and declarations Self-declared environmental claims that ‘self-declared environmental claims shall not be made where they are based on the absence of ingredients or features which have never been associated with the product category’.
The Defra guidance on green claims can be found at: http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/2011/06/03/pb13453-green-claims-guidance/
The above was issued by the British Coatings Federation on February 8th 2012