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White pigment titanium dioxide classified as carcinogenic
The white pigment titanium dioxide is suspected of being able to trigger cancer. The chemical can be found in wall paint, sunscreen, toothpaste and chewing gum. However, the substance appears to be dangerous only under very specific circumstances.
White pigment in many everyday things
The white pigment titanium dioxide is part of numerous everyday things. The chemical is found, for example, in sun milk, chewing gums, toothpastes, paints and wall paints. The substance can also be found in food. There it is listed as additive E171. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) recently announced that it classifies titanium dioxide as "possibly carcinogenic". However, there is no reason for the general population to be very concerned.
Possibly carcinogenic to humans
Titanium dioxide has long been suspected of being harmful to health. Just a few months ago, French researchers reported in the journal "Nature" that E171 has a harmful effect on the immune system in rats.
The substance could therefore - in rats - lead to intestinal inflammation and promote precursors of cancer.
According to ECHA, there is suspicion of cancer, but so far only for inhaled titanium dioxide and only if very large amounts get into the lungs.
The international cancer research agency IARC had already classified titanium dioxide in category 2B in 2010 "possibly carcinogenic for humans" (ECHA and IARC categories are not identical).
On June 9, 2017, the ECHA Risk Assessment Committee (RAC) decided to classify titanium dioxide as "a substance suspected of causing cancer through the inhalation route - category 2, through the inhalation route".
This means that the substance is suspected of causing cancer if inhaled.
The new classification could have a significant impact, as several million tons of the substance are processed each year worldwide.
Increased risk of lung cancer cannot be excluded
Prof. Dr. Uwe Heinrich, former head and currently scientific consultant, Fraunhofer Institute for Toxicology and Experimental Medicine (ITEM), Hanover, considers the decision of the RAC to be "understandable and justified".
"It is based on the lung tumors found in animal experiments in rats after inhalation exposure to titanium dioxide in high concentrations," said the expert, according to a report from the "science media center germany".
"Even if only inflammatory, proliferative and fibrotic effects in the lungs were found in humans after chronic exposure to high dust concentrations, as in the rat, but no significantly increased incidences of lung tumors, an increased lung tumor risk for humans cannot be ruled out in principle" Heinrich explained.
UV protection with titanium dioxide
But not all experts welcome ECHA's new assessment. So Dr. Joseph Perrone, chief science officer at the Center for Accountability in Science, released a statement, according to the "Press Portal" page, which reads:
"Titanium dioxide is a mineral that gives a variety of products, from iPhones to paints to sunscreens, a brilliant white color and UV protection and has been used in consumer goods for more than 100 years."
And further: "The health-related data that has been collected for many decades does not indicate that titanium dioxide can be considered carcinogenic in humans."
No danger in food or on the skin
Dr. Ulrike Diebold, Professor of Surface Science, Institute of Applied Physics, Vienna University of Technology, apparently cannot fully understand the new order:
"There doesn't seem to be any reason to panic: if you inhale titanium dioxide as fine dust, it seems to cause lung cancer in animal experiments. However, this does not seem to be due to the titanium dioxide itself, but rather to the fact that it is simply not good if you inhale small particles, ”says the expert.
If these are not readily soluble, they could accumulate in the lungs and trigger inflammation, which can cause tumors.
“People will often encounter titanium oxide in the form of pigments in colors, in food additives and in cosmetics. But there is no evidence that titanium dioxide creates cancer when it is eaten or smeared on the skin, ”said Diebold.
“On the contrary: as a pigment, it replaces the previously used, toxic lead oxide, and in sunscreens it protects against carcinogenic UV radiation. Titanium oxide can therefore still be used in everyday life. ”(Ad)