Cobalt and cobalt-containing substances
Updated June 26, 2019:
The Final Screening Assessment for Cobalt and Cobalt-containing Substances was published on May 27, 2017 under the Substance Groupings Initiative of the Chemicals Management Plan (CMP). The assessment is summarized in this information sheet (formerly public summary) and has not changed. The section in this information sheet entitled "Preventive actions and reducing risk" communicates updates in risk management activities, namely:
- Addition of cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds to Schedule 1 of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999 (CEPA 1999).
On this page
- About these substances
- Exposure of Canadians and the environment
- Key health and ecological effects (hazard)
- Risk assessment outcomes
- Preventive actions and reducing risk
- Related information
- The Government of Canada conducted a science-based evaluation, called a screening assessment, to address the potential for harm to Canadians and to the environment from cobalt and cobalt-containing substances
- Under CEPA 1999, the risk posed by a substance is determined by considering both its hazardous properties (its potential to cause adverse human health or ecological effects) and the amount of exposure there is to people or the environment. A substance may have hazardous properties; however, the risk to human health or to the environment may be low depending upon the level of exposure.
- More information on assessing risk can be found in the Overview of Risk Assessment and related fact sheets, particularly on Types of Risk Assessment Documents and the Risk Assessment Toolbox.
- For the health assessment, it was determined that cobalt and cobalt from cobalt-containing substances may be associated with health effects; however, the risk to Canadians is low at current levels of exposure. Therefore, it was concluded that cobalt and cobalt from cobalt-containing substances are not harmful to human health. For the ecological assessment, cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds were concluded to be harmful to the environment.
About these substances
- The screening assessment focused on cobalt and cobalt-containing substances. They were assessed as part of the Substance Groupings Initiative of the CMP.
- The assessment looked at the cobalt moiety (all forms of cobalt). As such, it is not limited to consideration of the cobalt-containing substances identified during the categorization process.
- Four cobalt-containing substances included in this grouping were assessed in Batch 10 of the Challenge Initiative of the CMP (elemental cobalt, cobalt chloride, and 2 cobalt sulfates). These substances were found not to be harmful to human health or to the environment when considered as individual substances. However, these 4 substances were included in the current screening assessment to consider combined exposure to cobalt from multiple cobalt-containing substances.
- Cobalt is a naturally occurring element in the earth's crust. It is found in various forms such as minerals, oxides and salts.
- Cobalt and cobalt-containing substances are also industrial chemicals mainly produced during mining processes or formed as a by-product during other processes.
- In Canada, cobalt and cobalt-containing substances are mostly used in metallurgical processes, in non-ferrous metal smelting and refining and as a component in alloys and carbide. They are also used in livestock feed supplements and fertilizers, hard material tools, paints and coatings, plastic, rubber, batteries and other products available to consumers.
Exposure of Canadians and the environment
- The assessment took into consideration the results of human biomonitoring studies. The information on measured levels in humans may be important to estimate exposure to Canadians.
- Canadians can be exposed to cobalt and cobalt-containing substances in food as a result of natural sources or human activities.
- Exposure may also occur to a lesser extent from soil, household dust, air, drinking water and from natural sources or sources resulting from human activities.
- Canadians may be exposed through the use of products available to consumers that contain cobalt, such as paints and coatings, cosmetics, and natural health products.
- Exposure may also occur while near current or historical industrial point sources, such as mines.
- Although these substances are found naturally, cobalt and cobalt-containing substances may be released to the environment during industrial activities such as cobalt production (for example, mining), incidental production (as a by-product), smelting and refining, and fossil fuel combustion. Releases may also occur during the manufacture, import, use and disposal of cobalt and cobalt-containing substances, products and manufactured items; as well as the disposal and waste management of cobalt-containing substances, products or manufactured items.
- Following releases to the environment, cobalt and cobalt-containing substances may enter water, soil and air.
Key health and ecological effects (hazard)
- To identify human health effects information, international reports were reviewed. International agencies have classified cobalt-containing substances as carcinogens, on the basis of exposure through inhalation or by injection in laboratory studies. There was no evidence for potential carcinogenicity when exposed orally (through ingestion).
- Cardiomyopathy (chronic disease of the heart muscle), polycythemida (increase of red blood cells and haemoglobin) observed in humans were identified as other critical effects. Reduced lung function was also considered as a critical effect in individuals exposed to dust containing cobalt in the diamond polishing industry.
- For the ecological effects, cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds have the potential to harm both aquatic and terrestrial organisms at relatively low concentrations.
Risk assessment outcomes
- Based upon a comparison of levels to which Canadians may be exposed to these substances and levels associated with health effects, the risk to human health from cobalt and cobalt from cobalt-containing substances is considered to be low.
- Cobalt is present in the environment in different forms. The quantities that are released to the environment from human sources may be above levels expected to cause harm to organisms.
- Also, cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds meet the persistence criteria but not the bioaccumulation criteria as set out in the Persistence and Bioaccumulation Regulations of CEPA 1999.
- Considering all the information presented, it was determined that there is risk of harm to the environment from cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds.
- The Government of Canada published the Final Screening Assessment for Cobalt and Cobalt-containing Substances on May 27, 2017.
Screening assessment conclusions
- As a result of the assessment, the Government concluded that cobalt and cobalt from cobalt-containing substances are not harmful to human health at current levels of exposure.
- However, the Government concluded that cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds are entering the environment at levels that are harmful to the environment.
Preventive actions and reducing risk
- On June 26, 2019, cobalt and soluble cobalt compounds were added to Schedule 1 of CEPA 1999, also called the List of Toxic Substances.
- The Proposed Risk Management Approach for Cobalt and Soluble Cobalt Compounds was published on May 27, 2017 and had a 60-day public comment period. In accordance with the approach, the Government took the following steps to reduce or manage the risks associated with the substance:
- Environment and Climate Change Canada is proposing measures to manage releases of cobalt to water from the following industrial sectors or activities: metal mining, mineral exploration, closed and abandoned mines, base metals smelting and refining, pulp and paper, and landfills.
- Environment and Climate Change Canada revised the existing Federal Environmental Quality Guidelines for cobalt. This was done so the guideline is consistent with the predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC) in freshwater (in other words, the concentration below which exposure to a substance is not expected to cause adverse effects in the environment), which was derived in the Final Screening Assessment for Cobalt and Cobalt-containing Substances.
- Further information and updates on risk management actions for substances managed under the CMP can be found in the risk management actions table and the two year rolling risk management activities and consultation schedule.
- Cobalt and cobalt-containing substances may be found in products available to consumers. Canadians should follow any safety warnings and directions on product labels and dispose of products responsibly.
- Canadians who may be exposed to cobalt and cobalt-containing substances in the workplace should consult with their employer and an occupational health and safety (OHS) representative about safe handling practices, applicable laws, and requirements under OHS legislation and the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).
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