ToxFAQsTM for Cadmium
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This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about cadmium. For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. This information is important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Exposure to cadmium happens mostly in the workplace where cadmium products are made. The general population is exposed from breathing cigarette smoke or eating cadmium contaminated foods. Cadmium damages the kidneys, lungs, and bones. Cadmium has been found in at least 1,014 of the 1,669 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is cadmium?
Cadmium is a natural element in the earth's crust. It is usually found as a mineral combined with other elements such as oxygen (cadmium oxide), chlorine (cadmium chloride), or sulfur (cadmium sulfate, cadmium sulfide).
All soils and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium. Most cadmium used in the United States is extracted during the production of other metals like zinc, lead, and copper. Cadmium does not corrode easily and has many uses, including batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics.
What happens to cadmium when it enters the environment?
- Cadmium enters soil, water, and air from mining, industry, and burning coal and household wastes.
- Cadmium does not break down in the environment, but can change forms.
- Cadmium particles in air can travel long distances before falling to the ground or water.
- Some forms of cadmium dissolve in water.
- Cadmium binds strongly to soil particles.
- Fish, plants, and animals take up cadmium from the environment.
How might I be exposed to cadmium?
- Eating foods containing cadmium; low levels are found in all foods (highest levels are found in shellfish, liver, and kidney meats).
- Smoking cigarettes or breathing cigarette smoke.
- Breathing contaminated workplace air.
- Drinking contaminated water.
- Living near industrial facilities which release cadmium into the air.
How can cadmium affect my health?
Breathing high levels of cadmium can severely damage the lungs. Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea.
Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.
How likely is cadmium to cause cancer?
The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has determined that cadmium and cadmium compounds are known human carcinogens.
How can cadmium affect children?
The health effects in children are expected to be similar to the effects seen in adults (kidney, lung, and bone damage depending on the route of exposure).
A few studies in animals indicate that younger animals absorb more cadmium than adults. Animal studies also indicate that the young are more susceptible than adults to a loss of bone and decreased bone strength from exposure to cadmium.
We don't know if cadmium causes birth defects in people. The babies of animals exposed to high levels of cadmium during pregnancy had changes in behavior and learning ability. There is also some information from animal studies that high enough exposures to cadmium before birth can reduce body weights and affect the skeleton in the developing young.
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to cadmium?
- In the home, store substances that contain cadmium safely, and keep nickel-cadmium batteries out of reach of young children.
- Cadmium is a component of tobacco smoke. Avoid smoking in enclosed spaces like inside the home or car in order to limit exposure to children and other family members.
- If you work with cadmium, use all safety precautions to avoid carrying cadmium-containing dust home from work on your clothing, skin, hair, or tools.
- A balanced diet can reduce the amount of cadmium taken into the body from food and drink. .
Is there a medical test to determine whether I've been exposed to cadmium?
Cadmium can be measured in blood, urine, hair, or nails. Urinary cadmium has been shown to accurately reflect the amount of cadmium in the body.
The amount of cadmium in your blood shows your recent exposure to cadmium. The amount of cadmium in your urine shows both your recent and your past exposure.
Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
The EPA has determined that exposure to cadmium in drinking water at concentrations of 0.04 ppm for up to 10 days is not expected to cause any adverse effects in a child.
The EPA has determined that lifetime exposure to 0.005 ppm cadmium is not expected to cause any adverse effects.
The FDA has determined that the cadmium concentration in bottled drinking water should not exceed 0.005 ppm.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has limited workers' exposure to an average of 5 µg/m3 for an 8-hour workday, 40-hour workweek.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2008. Toxicological Profile for Cadmium (Draft for Public Comment). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.