Cadmium poisoning

Category: Illness or disabilities



Introduction and description


Cadmium is a chemical element with symbol Cd and atomic number 48. The average concentration of cadmium in Earth's crust is between 0.1 and 0.5 parts per million (ppm). It can occur as an impurity in zinc carbonate.

It is a soft, malleable, ductile, bluish-white divalent metal. It is similar in many respects to zinc but forms complex compounds. As a bulk metal, cadmium is insoluble in water and is not flammable; however, in its powdered form it may burn and release toxic fumes.

Cadmium has no known biological function in higher organisms.

In the body it is poisonous and results in numerous illnesses and diseases, many of them related to bone formation.  It is also implicated in diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.


The use of cadmium should be decreasing due to its toxicity, however, it is not.   It is specifically listed in the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances. Due to the adverse effects on the environment and human health, the supply and use of cadmium is restricted in Europe under the REACH Regulation. 

Sadly, the rest of the world appears not to be following the same direction.

The British Geological Survey reports that in 2001, China was the top producer of cadmium, producing almost one-sixth of the world share, closely followed by South Korea and Japan.


Sources of poisoning

Zinc processing - Cadmium is a common impurity in zinc ores, and it is most often isolated during the production of zinc. Some zinc ore concentrates from sulfidic zinc ores contain up to 1.4% of cadmium. In the 1970s, the output of cadmium was 6.5 pounds per ton of zinc. Zinc sulfide ores are roasted in the presence of oxygen, converting the zinc sulfide to the oxide. Zinc metal is produced either by smelting the oxide with carbon or by electrolysis in sulfuric acid. Cadmium is isolated from the zinc metal by vacuum distillation if the zinc is smelted, or cadmium sulfate is precipitated out of the electrolysis solution.

metal recycling

Electroplating -  - Cadmium was used for a long time for corrosion-resistant plating on steel.  Unlike most other metals, cadmium is resistant to corrosion and as a result it is used as a protective layer when deposited on other metals.  After the industrial scale production of cadmium started in the 1930s and 1940s, the major application of cadmium was the coating of iron and steel to prevent corrosion; in 1944, 62% and in 1956, 59% of the cadmium in the United States, for example, was for coating.  The use declined due to environmental and health regulations in the 1980s and 1990s; in 2006, only 7% of total cadmium consumption was used for plating and coating.  Cadmium electroplating, however, consuming 6% of the global production, can still be found in the aircraft industry.

Metal recycling - Small amounts of cadmium, about 10% of consumption, are produced from secondary sources, mainly from dust generated by recycling iron and steel scrap.

Mining - No significant deposits of cadmium-containing ores are known. Greenockite (CdS), the only cadmium mineral of importance, is nearly always associated with sphalerite (ZnS). This association is caused by the geochemical similarity between zinc and cadmium which makes geological separation unlikely. As a consequence, cadmium is produced mainly as a by-product from mining, smelting, and refining sulfidic ores of zinc, and, to a lesser degree, lead and copper.

beach pollution - plastics in the sea affect the fish too

Plastic production - cadmium compounds were used to stabilize plastic.  The stabilizing effect of cadmium-containing chemicals like the carboxylates cadmium laureate and cadmium stearate on PVC led to an increased use of those compounds in the 1970s and 1980s. In PVC, cadmium was used as a heat, light, and weathering stabilizer.  Currently, Cadmium stabilizers are being replaced with barium-zinc, calcium-zinc and organo-tin stabilizers, however, clearly, any existing PVC products will still have them.

Solder - Cadmium is used in many kinds of solder due to a low coefficient of friction and fatigue resistance. It is also found in some of the lowest-melting alloys, such as Wood's metal.  Wood's metal, also known as Lipowitz's alloy or by the commercial names Cerrobend, Bendalloy, Pewtalloy and MCP 158, is an eutectic alloy of 50% bismuth, 26.7% lead, 13.3% tin, and 10% cadmium by weight.  Wood's metal is used as

  • a low-melting solder
  • low-temperature casting metal
  • high temperature coupling fluid in heat baths
  • a fire-melted valve element in fire sprinkler systems in buildings
  • Medical gas cylinders in the United Kingdom have a Wood's metal seal which melts in fire, allowing the gas to escape and reducing the risk of gas explosion.
  • a filler when bending thin-walled metal tubes. For this use the tubing is filled with molten Wood's metal. After this filler solidifies the tubing is bent. The filler prevents the tube collapsing. The Wood's metal is then removed by heating, often by boiling in water.
  • making custom-shaped apertures and blocks (for example, electron-beam cutouts and lung blocks) for medical radiation treatment
  • making metal inlays in wood.
  • repairing antiques. For example, a bent piece of sheet metal may be repaired by casting a Wood's metal die from a good example
  • by model railroad enthusiasts to add weight to locomotives, increasing traction, and the number of cars that can be pulled.
  • making extracellular electrodes for the electro-physiological recording of neural activity
collecting garbage

Welding – The hazardous agents associated with welding processes are acetylene, carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, phosgene, tungsten, arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, iron, lead, manganese, nickel, silver, tin, and zinc. All welding processes involve the potential hazards for inhalation exposures that may lead to acute or chronic respiratory diseases.

…..welding fumes cause the lung function impairment, obstructive and restrictive lung disease, cough, dyspnea, rhinitis, asthma, pneumonitis, pneumoconiosis, carcinoma of the lungs. In addition, welding workers suffer from eye irritation, photokeratitis, cataract, skin irritation, erythema, pterygium, non-melanocytic skin cancer, malignant melanoma, reduced sperm count, motility and infertility. PMID:  14647549

Solar panels – Cadmium is used in making the cells for telluride solar panels.


Batteries – in the European Union at least there have been active efforts to replace nickel-cadmium batteries with nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries. In the rest of the world nickel cadmium batteries are still used.  The decrease in consumption in other applications was made up by a growing demand of cadmium in nickel-cadmium batteries, which accounted for 81% of the cadmium consumption in the United States in 2006.  In 2009, 86% of cadmium was used in batteries, predominantly in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries. Nickel-cadmium cells have a nominal cell potential of 1.2 V. The cell consists of a positive nickel hydroxide electrode and a negative cadmium electrode plate separated by an alkaline electrolyte (potassium hydroxide).[35] The European Union set the allowed use of cadmium in electronics in 2004 to limits of 0.01%, with several exceptions, but reduced the allowed content of cadmium in batteries to 0.002%.


Calamine lotion – one medicine that was freely available many years ago was calamine lotion.  It was used for children when they had sunburn and bites or stings.  Calamine is either a mixture of zinc oxide (ZnO) with about 0.5% ferric oxide (Fe2O3) or a zinc carbonate compound.    Pure properly processed calamine lotion contains only zinc carbonate, [or zinc oxide] which should help healing, however, cadmium occurs as an  impurity in zinc carbonate (calamine).  The metal was even named after the Latin word for calamine, because it was found in this zinc compound. Stromeyer noted that some impure samples of calamine changed colour when heated but pure calamine did not. He was persistent in studying these results and eventually isolated cadmium metal by roasting and reduction of the sulfide. Thus cheap badly processed calamine lotion could also have been a source, made more potent by the fact that it was applied to wounded skin

Paints and pigments - The possibility to use cadmium yellow as pigment was recognized in the 1840s but rather ironically the lack of cadmium limited this application.  By 1956, however, 24% of the cadmium used within the United States was used for red, orange and yellow pigments based on sulfides and selenides of cadmium.  The use of cadmium in applications such as pigments, coatings, and stabilizers declined due to environmental and health regulations in the 1980s and 1990s; in 2006, only 10% was used for pigments. 


For artists and children, cadmium yellows, oranges, and reds are the most brilliant and long-lasting colours to use. They are found in watercolours, gouaches, acrylics, chalk pastels, and other paint and pigment formulations. The following is a genuine quote:

Because these pigments are potentially toxic, it is recommended to use a barrier cream on the hands to prevent absorption through the skin when working with them even though the amount of cadmium absorbed into the body through the skin is usually reported to be less than 1% [sic].

Patent medicines - Even though cadmium and its compounds are toxic, the British Pharmaceutical Codex from 1907 states that cadmium iodide was used as a medication to treat "enlarged joints, scrofulous glands, and chilblains".


Cosmetics – even lipstick have been found to contain cadmium.

Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) technique was applied to determine the concentrations of different toxic elements like lead, chromium, cadmium and zinc in four different lipstick brands sold at local markets in Saudi Arabia. These samples contained toxic elements like lead, cadmium and chromium  PMID:  19926220

Agriculture and food - Rocks mined to produce phosphate fertilizers contain varying amounts of cadmium, leading to a cadmium concentration of up to 300 mg/kg in the produced phosphate fertilizers and thus in the high cadmium content in agricultural soils.

Tobacco – The tobacco plant like many plants easily takes up any cadmium in the soil.  Thus in areas in which there is already heavy pollution from industry or in which phosphate fertilisers have been used, the tobacco takes up the cadmium

The present study was conducted to determine the cadmium level in tobacco planted in five main tobacco-producing areas, a cadmium polluted area, and in cigarettes produced domestically (54 brands). The results indicate that average cadmium content in tobacco was 1.48 (0.10-4.95 mg/kg), which was similar to that of Indian tobacco (1.24 mg/kg), but the cadmium of tobacco produced in the cadmium polluted area was quite high (8.60 mg/kg). The average cigarette cadmium was 1.05 micrograms/g (with filter tip) and 1.61 micrograms/g (regular cigarette). Therefore special attention should be paid to the soil used in planting tobacco.  PMID:  1586467

As a consequence smokers often have a higher incidence of cadmium poisoning than the rest of the population

Fossil fuel combustion/Coal burning [and production] -  Coal can contain significant amounts of cadmium, which ends up mostly in the flue dust, but of course can be released in any smoke when the coal is burnt

Nuclear fission - Cadmium is used as a barrier to control neutrons in nuclear fission. The pressurized water reactor designed by, for example, the Westinghouse Electric Company uses an alloy consisting of 80% silver, 15% indium, and 5% cadmium.

Televisions - Cadmium oxide is used in black and white television phosphors and in the blue and green phosphors for colour television picture tubes.


Photocopiers - Cadmium sulfide (CdS) is used as a photoconductive surface coating for photocopier drums.

Lasers - Helium–cadmium lasers are a common source of blue-ultraviolet laser light. They operate at either 325 or 422 nm and are used in fluorescence microscopes and various laboratory experiments.  Cadmium selenide quantum dots emit bright luminescence under UV excitation (He-Cd laser, for example). The color of this luminescence can be green, yellow or red depending on the particle size. Colloidal solutions of those particles are used for imaging of biological tissues and solutions with a fluorescence microscope.

Computers and semi-conductors - Cadmium is a component of some compound semiconductors, such as cadmium sulfide, cadmium selenide, and cadmium telluride, which can be used for light detection or solar cells.

Infrared detectors including remote controls -  HgCdTe is sensitive to infrared light and therefore is used as an infrared detector or switch for example in remote control devices.

Biological research - In molecular biology, cadmium is used to block voltage-dependent calcium channels from fluxing calcium ions, as well as in hypoxia research to stimulate proteasome-dependent degradation of Hif-1α.

Water, air and soil - Buildup of cadmium levels in the water, air, and soil has been increasing rapidly particularly in industrial areas. Environmental exposure to cadmium has been particularly problematic in Japan where many people have consumed rice that was grown in cadmium contaminated irrigation water. This phenomenon is known under the name itai-itai disease.

Food  - is another source of cadmium. Plants may only contain small or moderate amounts in non-industrial areas, unless of course phospahte fertilisers have been used containing cadmium.  High levels may be found in the liver and kidneys of adult animals. The daily intake of cadmium through food varies by geographic region. Intake is reported to be approximately 8 to 30mcg in Europe and the United States versus 59 to 113 mcg in various areas of Japan.  For example, this is Poland:

Lead, cadmium, copper and zinc contents in vegetables, fruits of gooseberries and in soil of Lublin gardening plots "Pionier" and "Podzamcze" both situated along heavy traffic streets, and "Pionier" additional to the close vicinity of automobile factory were determined by atomic absorption spectrophofometry. …. Both lead and cadmium of the soil of "Podzamcze" gardening plot significantly exceeded the levels considered as tolerable for unpolluted grounds, whereas the soil of "Pionier" contained lead close to limit of tolerance level.  PMID: 7481501


Children’s jewellery - Reports of high levels of cadmium use in children's jewellery in 2010 led to a US Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation. The U.S. CPSC issued specific recall notices for cadmium content applying to jewellery sold by Claire's and Wal-Mart stores.

Consumer products - In June 2010, McDonald's voluntarily recalled more than 12 million promotional "Shrek Forever After 3D" Collectable Drinking Glasses owing to concerns over cadmium levels in paint pigments used on the glassware. The glasses were manufactured by Arc International, of Millville, NJ, USA.

Hazardous waste sites and incinerators - hazardous waste sites are theoretically controlled, although the policing of these controls leaves much to be desired.  Incinerators are not controlled and are a major source of worry.  A person who throws away an old cadmium battery in their household waste which is then sent to a municipal incinerator, has to all intents and purposes released quite a large amount of cadmium into the air via the smoke from the incinerator.  Incinerators are a major source of pollution of all toxins, not just heavy metals.


Cadmium is an extremely toxic metal. Due to its low permissible exposure limit, overexposures may occur even in situations where trace quantities of cadmium are found.  The most dangerous form of occupational exposure to cadmium is inhalation of fine dust and fumes, or ingestion of highly soluble cadmium compounds.  Cadmium may actually effect every organ but examples of its effects are described below:

Kidney disease


The highest concentration of cadmium has been found to be absorbed in the kidneys of humans, and up to about 30 mg of cadmium is commonly inhaled throughout childhood and adolescence.  The lungs absorb cadmium more efficiently than the stomach

During childhood and adolescence, ingestion and inhalation of cadmium are responsible for the average American accumulating about 30 mg of cadmium in his body, with the highest concentration being in the kidney. PMID:  775217

Lung diseases

Inhalation of cadmium-containing fumes can result initially in ‘metal fume fever’ but may progress to emphysema, chemical pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, and death.

increased levels of cadmium have been found in lungs and other tissues of emphysematous subjects. PMID: 775217

Heart failure

Cadmium exposure is a risk factor associated with early atherosclerosis and hypertension, which can both lead to cardiovascular disease.

Renal cadmium ….may be related to hypertension, sodium retention, glucose intolerance, dyslipidemia, and zinc deficiency. Dietary calcium may mitigate some of the toxicity of cadmium.  Heavy metal toxicity, especially mercury and cadmium, should be evaluated in any patient with hypertension, CHD, or other vascular disease. Specific testing for acute and chronic toxicity and total body burden using hair, toenail, urine, serum, etc. with baseline and provoked evaluation should be done.  PMID: 17405690


Anosmia  is the technical name for not being able to smell things -  “an inability to perceive odours”. Cadmium can cause anosmia.


Carla Mascaro

A host of different types of cancer are known to be caused by cancer.  Although cancers may have more than one cause, cadmium appears to crop up time and time again in research papers as a proven cause.

Experimental data convincingly propose the toxic metal cadmium as a prostate carcinogen. PMID:  22850555

Remembering that breast cancer has a number of causes, not least of which are the viruses, cadmium also plays a part

The ubiquitous food contaminant cadmium has features of an estrogen mimetic that may promote the development of estrogen-dependent malignancies, such as breast cancer. ….. We examined the association between dietary cadmium exposure (at baseline, 1987) and the risk of overall and estrogen receptor (ER)-defined (ER(+) or ER(-)) breast cancer within a population-based prospective cohort of 55,987 postmenopausal women. During an average of 12.2 years of follow-up, 2,112 incident cases of invasive breast cancer were ascertained.   …. After adjusting for confounders, including consumption of whole grains and vegetables (which account for 40% of the dietary exposure, but also contain putative anticarcinogenic phytochemicals), dietary cadmium intake was positively associated with overall breast cancer tumors, … …. Overall, these results suggest a role for dietary cadmium in postmenopausal breast cancer development.  PMID:  22422990



Cadmium seriously impairs erythropoiesis. Erythropoiesis (from Greek 'erythro' meaning "red" and 'poiesis' meaning "to make") is the process which produces red blood cells (erythrocytes).

Cd has been demonstrated to aggravate anaemia by suppressing erythropoietin gene expression in anemic patients. ….. Cd triggers a redox/proteasome-dependent degradation of HIF-1alpha protein, reducing HIF-1 activity and in turn suppressing the hypoxic induction of hypoxia-inducible genes.  PMID:  10866824

Bone diseases

Cadmium causes bone diseases of all kinds from osteoporosois to fractures:

Osteoporosis and its main health outcome, fragility fractures, are large and escalating public health problems. ….. A 32% increased risk of osteoporosis (95% CI: 2-71%) and 31% increased risk for any first incident fracture (95% CI: 2-69%) were observed comparing high dietary cadmium exposure (≥13 μg/day, median) with lower exposures (<13 μg/day). By combining high dietary with high urinary cadmium (≥0.50 μg/g creatinine), odds ratios among never-smokers were 2.65 (95% CI: 1.43-4.91) for osteoporosis and 3.05 (95% CI: 1.66-5.59) for fractures. In conclusion, even low-level cadmium exposure from food is associated with low BMD and an increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures. The partial masking of the associations by essential nutrients indicates important interplay between dietary factors and contaminants present in food. In separate analyses, dietary and urinary cadmium underestimated the association with bone effects.  PMID:  22465267

Reproductive system diseases

Environmental pollutants mimicking the effects of estrogen are suggested to contribute to the high incidence of reproductive system problems in both men and women including infertility in men.  Cadmium has a potent estrogen-like activity mediated via the estrogen receptor-alpha.  In this example, it caused breast cancer, but many other diseases are implicated

We prospectively examined the association between cadmium exposure and incidence of postmenopausal endometrial cancer. The Swedish Mammography Cohort is a population-based prospective cohort of 30,210 postmenopausal women free of cancer diagnose at baseline (1987) and who completed a food frequency questionnaire at baseline and in 1997. We estimated the dietary cadmium intake based on the questionnaire data and the cadmium content in all foods. During 16.0 years (484,274 person-years) of follow-up between the baseline and mid-2006, we ascertained 378 incident cases of endometrioid adenocarcinoma. The average estimated dietary cadmium intake was 15 mug/day (80% from cereals and vegetables). Cadmium intake was statistically significantly associated with increased risk of endometrial cancer in all women; … We observed a 2.9-fold increased risk … associated with long-term cadmium intake consistently above the median at both baseline 1987 and in 1997 in never-smoking women with low bioavailable estrogen  Our results support the hypothesis that cadmium may exert estrogenic effects and thereby increase the risk of hormone-related cancers.  PMID:  18676869



– which is quite frequent

In Japan the most heavily cadmium (Cd)-polluted region is the Jinzu river basin, where Itai-itai disease is endemic and the Kakehashi river basin is the second most polluted region.. The village average Cd concentrations in rice were distributed in the range between 0.02 microg/g and 1.06 microg/g in the Jinzu river basin and 0.11 microg g and 0.67 microg g in the Kakehashi river basin. Severe renal damage has occurred widely in the Jinzu river basin. Even after Cd exposure had ceased, renal dysfunction became worse. Dose-response relationships between Cd exposure and health effects were clearly demonstrated in both regions. The allowable limits (according to the present authors' assessment) of Cd concentrations in rice were estimated to be 0.08 microg g to 0.13 microg g and approximately 2 g for total Cd intake. Renal dysfunction caused by exposure to Cd was associated with an increased mortality in both regions. The increased total Cd intake and high concentration of Cd in rice also exerts an adverse influence on life prognosis.  PMID:  15688869

photo Carla Mascaro


Clearly prevention requires a clean-up of our planet on a never before seen scale. 

Plants can be used to chelate us and the planet, but once they have died they need to be safely disposed of. 

The observations provide some healing suggestions.



References and further reading

  • Grant, C. A.; Sheppard, S. C. (2008). "Fertilizer impacts on cadmium availability in agricultural soils and crops". Human and Ecological Risk Assessment 14 (2): 210–228. doi:10.1080/10807030801934895.
  •  Jiao, Y.; Grant, C. A.; Bailey, L. D. (2004). "Effects of phosphorus and zinc fertilizer on cadmium uptake and distribution in flax and durum wheat". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 84 (8): 777–785. doi:10.1002/jsfa.1648.
  • Bettinelli, M.; Baroni, U.; Pastorelli, N. (1988). "Determination of arsenic, cadmium, lead, antimony, selenium and thallium in coal fly ash using the stabilised temperature platform furnace and Zeeman-effect background correction". Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 3 (7): 1005–1011. doi:10.1039/JA9880301005.
  • Miller, L. S.; Mullin, J. B. (1991). "Crystalline Cadmium Sulfide". Electronic materials: from silicon to organics. Springer. p. 273. ISBN 978-0-306-43655-0.
  • Jennings, Thomas C. (2005). "Cadmium Environmental Concerns". PVC handbook. Hanser Verlag. p. 149.

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