Cadmium is a naturally-occurring metal used in batteries and found in cigarette smoke.
What is cadmium?
Cadmium is a silver-white, blue-tinged metal that is found in the earth’s crust. It is an odorless natural element that is usually found as a mineral combined with other elements. The chemical formula for cadmium is Cd. There are many cadmium compounds, some of which include: cadmium oxide, cadmium sulfate, cadmium sulfide, and cadmium chloride.
Most cadmium used in the United States is extracted during the production of metals such as copper, lead, and zinc. Cadmium is found in some foods and is emitted by the combustion of fossil fuels, cigarette smoking, and burning waste.
During World War I, cadmium was used as a substitute for tin. Today, cadmium is primarily used as an ingredient in batteries. It is used in pigments, craft glazes, coatings and platings, and stabilizers for plastics. In the workplace, it is used in printing and dyeing textiles, manufacturing fungicides, soldering aluminum, photocopying, and electroplating automotive, aircraft, and electronic parts. It is also used in analytical chemistry and nuclear reactors and as a hardener for copper.How might I be exposed to cadmium?
You can be exposed to cadmium by breathing or ingesting it. Exposure can occur if you smoke cigarettes or breathe second- or third-hand cigarette smoke. You can be exposed if you eat foods that contain high levels of cadmium, such as shellfish, liver, and kidney meats. Other foods that contain cadmium are grain cereal products, potatoes, and some leafy vegetables. You can also be exposed if you drink contaminated water or live near an industrial facility or smelter that emits cadmium into the air. People who fish in local waters for food may be exposed to fish in which cadmium has accumulated.
At work, you can be exposed to cadmium if you work at a smelting or electroplating facility, a battery or fungicide manufacturer, or photocopying site. Other industrial processes that include a risk of exposure to cadmium include abrasive blasting, gas welding and cutting, metal preparation and pouring, painting, processing scrap that contains cadmium, steel welding, textile printing or dyeing, semiconductor manufacturing, and soldering. Exposure may come from inhaling cadmium dust or fumes or ingesting contamination on your hands.
At home, you can be exposed to cadmium if you make ceramics, jewelry, or enameled crafts. You may also be exposed through glassblowing, painting, or ingesting an herbal remedy that contains cadmium.How can cadmium affect my health?
Cadmium and cadmium compounds are listed as carcinogens in the Twelfth Report on Carcinogens published by the National Toxicology Program because they are known to cause cancer. Long-term exposure to high levels of cadmium can cause lung cancer. There also may be an association between exposure to cadmium and cancer of the prostate, kidney, and bladder.
Breathing high levels of cadmium can severely damage the lungs and may cause death. Eating food or drinking water with very high levels of cadmium can severely irritate the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea, and sometimes even death.
Ingestion of cadmium salts can cause severe and sometimes fatal poisoning. Inhaling cadmium dusts and fumes may cause acute poisoning. Cadmium cyanide and cadmium fluoride are also poisonous.
Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium can lead to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long-term health effects include lung damage, emphysema, bronchitis, fragile bones, pulmonary edema, difficult breathing, anemia, rhinitis, and discoloration of teeth.
Long-term inhalation of cadmium dust or fumes can cause chronic cadmium poisoning that includes chest pains, headache, and weakness. Long-term inhalation of cadmium salts can lead to cadmium poisoning that includes convulsions, headache, muscular cramps, and vertigo. Short-term inhalation of cadmium dust or fumes may cause cough, headache, chest pain, irritability, bronchopneumonia, and throat and nose irritation.
If you think your health has been affected by exposure to cadmium or its compounds, contact your health care professional.
For poisoning emergencies or questions about possible poisons, please contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.
Cadmium (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium Acetate (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 607 KB)
Cadmium and Compounds. Haz-Map (National Library of Medicine)
Cadmium Bromide (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium Carbonate (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 606 KB)
Cadmium Chloride (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium Compounds. Hazardous Substances Data Bank (National Library of Medicine)
Cadmium Hydroxide (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 606 KB)
Cadmium Nitrate (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 606 KB)
Cadmium Oxide (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium Stearate (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium Sulfate (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 606 KB)
Cadmium Sulfide (New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services) (PDF — 605 KB)
Cadmium. ToxFAQs (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry)
Map of Superfund Hazardous Waste Sites with Cadmium in the United States. TOXMAP (National Library of Medicine)
Last Updated: August 6, 2013