This pamphlet provides answers to basic
questions about cadmium. It will explain what cadmium is, where it is found,
how it can affect your health, and what you can do to prevent or reduce
exposure to it.
Cadmium is released into the environment
from mining and metal processing operations, burning fuels, making and using
phosphate fertilizers, and disposing of metal products. People living near
industry that conducts any of these activities may be exposed to cadmium.
Cadmium exposure at low levels usually does not produce immediate health
effects, but can cause adverse health effects over long periods.
WHAT IS CADMIUM AND HOW IS IT
Pure cadmium is a soft, silver-white metal
found naturally in small amounts in soil. Cadmium usually combines with other
things to form different compounds. Some of these compounds affect the body
more than others. Cadmium does not have a definite taste or odor.
Cadmium is not mined, but it is a by-product of
the smelting of other metals such as zinc, lead, and copper. Cadmium is used in
nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries and for metal plating. It also is used in
some paints, plastics, and metal solders. Some metal containers, such as ice
cube trays, pitchers, or bowls can contain small amounts of cadmium.
Ceramicware also can contain some cadmium. The principal industries that use
cadmium are metal smelting, electronics, nuclear power, paint pigment
production, and other metal working and refining companies.
HOW DOES CADMIUM GET INTO THE
Cadmium is found naturally in small quantities
in air, water, and soil. Since cadmium is a metal, it does not break down and
can accumulate over time. Burning household or industrial waste and burning
coal or oil may release cadmium into the air. Cadmium also can be released from
car exhaust, metal processing industries, battery and paint manufacturing, and
waste hauling and disposal activities. Once cadmium is in the air, it spreads
with the wind and settles onto the ground or surface water as dust.
Higher levels of cadmium may be found in soil
or water near industrial areas or hazardous waste sites. High levels of cadmium
in surface soils usually result from cadmium particles settling from the air.
Soils near roads may contain high levels of cadmium from car exhaust. Surface
water also can contain low levels of dissolved cadmium. Cadmium in water tends
to sink and accumulate in bottom sediments.
HOW CAN I BE EXPOSED TO CADMIUM?
Cadmium can enter the body from smoking
tobacco, eating and drinking food and water containing cadmium, and inhaling it
from the air. People living near sources of cadmium or cadmium-related
industries may be exposed in all these ways. The skin does not easily absorb
Cigarettes contain cadmium, and smokers inhale
cadmium when they smoke. Breathing secondhand smoke is not believed to be a
main source of exposure to cadmium. For people who do not smoke, food is the
most common source of cadmium. Fruits and vegetables, especially grains,
potatoes, and leafy vegetables like spinach, grown in soils with high levels of
cadmium may contain elevated levels of cadmium. Shellfish and organ meats like
liver or kidney also contain more cadmium than other foods.
If a community or home has extremely soft
water, small amounts of cadmium may move from metal water lines into drinking
water. If you use ceramicware or cadmium-plated metal containers such as ice
cube trays, pitchers, or bowls to prepare or store food and drinks, some
cadmium may move into the food or drinks. Also, hobbyists who make jewelry,
stained glass, or work with paints containing cadmium may be exposed.
HOW DOES CADMIUM ENTER THE BODY?
The amount of cadmium that enters the body
depends on how a person is exposed. Cadmium compounds are not easily absorbed
by the skin. When you eat food or drink water containing cadmium, only a small
amount is absorbed by the body. Poor nutrition may increase how much cadmium
the body absorbs. Very small cadmium particles may reach the air sacs deep
within the lungs. If cadmium is a gas or fume, it is even more easily absorbed.
Once in the body, cadmium is stored mainly in the bone, liver, and kidneys.
HOW CAN CADMIUM AFFECT MY HEALTH?
Cadmium has no beneficial effect on human
health. Health effects caused by cadmium depend on how much has entered the
body, how long you have been exposed to cadmium, and how the body
Some workers who breathe air with high levels
of cadmium over a short time experience lung damage and even death. Breathing
cadmium in air does not usually cause immediate breathing problems or any
warning signs. Therefore, exposure may continue until serious lung damage has
occurred. Most cadmium levels found in the environment are not high enough to
cause lung damage. Breathing lower levels of cadmium over several years can
result in a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and lead to kidney disease. It
also can cause bones to become weaker. If you eat food or drink water that
contains large amounts of cadmium, stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea
may result. Small amounts of cadmium taken in over many years may cause kidney
damage and fragile bones.
Female rats and mice fed diets high in cadmium
have offspring with low birth weight and improperly formed bones. Low birth
weight also has been found in women exposed to cadmium in the workplace.
Exposure to cadmium at normal environmental levels is not likely to cause low
birth weight infants. Rodents exposed to cadmium in air have higher rates of
lung cancer, liver damage, and changes in the immune system. There is no
evidence that cadmium causes cancer at the low levels normally found in the
IS THERE A TEST TO DETERMINE IF IF I HAVE
BEEN EXPOSED TO CADMIUM?
If you think you have been exposed to high
levels of cadmium, you should consult your physician immediately. Cadmium can
be measured in blood, urine, hair, nails, liver, and kidneys. Kidney and liver
function tests can be done to see if cadmium has damaged them. These tests are
often done in combination with other tests, such as a chest X-ray.
HOW CAN I REDUCE MY EXPOSURE TO
You need to be aware of the possible sources of
cadmium to limit your intake. Not smoking cigarettes and eating a nutritious
diet will help reduce exposure and prevent harmful effects. If your drinking
water comes from a private well near a source of cadmium, you may want to have
the water tested. Public water systems test for cadmium on a regular basis. If
you live near a source of cadmium, you may want to have your garden soil tested
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
(USEPA) limits the amount of cadmium allowed in drinking water, lakes, rivers,
landfills, and cropland. USEPA does not allow cadmium in pesticides. The U.S.
Food and Drug Administration limits cadmium levels in food, and limits the
amount in ceramicware.
WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFORMATION?
Illinois Department of Public Health
Division of Environmental Health
525 W. Jefferson St.
Springfield, IL 62761
TTY (hearing impaired use only) 800-547-0466
This pamphlet was supported in part by funds
from the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act
trust fund through a cooperative agreement with the Agency for Toxic Substances
and Disease Registry, Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and