|Inside the sludge bucket|
|decanted solvent ready for reuse|
Reading Katherine Tyrrell's excellent blog "Making a Mark" on Monday, I discovered that there;s a proposal in front of the EU to ban the use of cadmiums in artists' paints in Europe. While I use cadmiums and love them for their intensity and opacity, I think this may be a good thing. In my experience teaching classes and workshops to all levels of painters from beginners to professionals, I've found a scary lack of understanding about the toxicity of the pigments that they're using. From holding brushes in their mouths, to washing paint down the drain, painters are doing crazy and dangerous things every day in the privacy of their studios. It's not intentional and most of them are appalled to discover that they're polluters; the information just isn't out there.
Cadmium, cobalt, titanium, and many other pigments are toxic - regardless of whether they're bound in oil or acrylic bases (or watercolour, for that matter) - and have to be considered hazardous waste. That means that artists should dispose of them with as much scrupulousness as we expect big companies to use when they get rid of manufacturing waste. The drain and household garbage aren't options.
So what's an honest painter to do? Start by getting a bucket with a lid like the one in the photo at the top. That old honey container is my sludge bucket. Whenever I clean out my solvent container, I dump the lot into that bucket and scrape in all of the pigment sludge that has accumulated over a few days' of painting. It's a grey mess when it goes in, but overnight it settles out and the solvent rises to the top, clean and perfectly reusable. The pigments settle into a layer at the bottom.
It took me 3 years to fill the last bucket with pigment sludge, and then I took it to the hazardous waste disposal section of the local landfill. In my city, some fire stations also accept chemical waste. I expect that every city's government website will list facilities for chemical drop off and disposal.
We should all be doing this, but I think paint manufacturers need to step up and educate consumers as well. Paint displays should outline safe handling and disposal of their products. The tiny MSDS warnings on tubes of paint just don't cut it.
Can educating artists help to save cadmiums in Europe? I don't know, but it will certainly save health and waterways, and that matters more than great colour.