Cadmium Toxicity

(Cadmium Poisoning)


Cadmium toxicity occurs when a person breathes in high levels of cadmium from the air, or eats food or drinks water containing high levels of cadmium. Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal. It is usually present in the environment as a mineral combined with other elements like oxygen, chlorine, or sulfur. Either short-term or long-term exposure to cadmium can cause serious health problems. If you suspect you have been exposed to cadmium, contact your doctor right away.


Most cadmium used in the United States is a byproduct of the productions of metals such as zinc, lead, and copper. It is also found in the following products:
  • Cigarettes
  • Batteries
  • Pigments
  • Metal coatings
  • Plastics
  • Some metal alloys
  • Fertilizers
When cadmium enters the air, it binds to small particles. It falls to the ground or water as rain or snow, and may contaminate fish, plants, and animals. Improper waste disposal and spills at hazardous waste sites may cause cadmium to leak into nearby water and soil.Having skin contact with cadmium is not known to cause health problems, but the following exposures to cadmium can cause serious health problems:
  • Breathing air that contains high levels of cadmium
  • Eating food containing high levels of cadmium, such as shellfish, liver, kidney, potatoes, and leafy vegetables
  • Drinking water contaminated with cadmium
  • Breathing in cigarette smoke, which doubles the average daily intake of cadmium

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop cadmium toxicity as a result of cadmium exposure. Factors that increase your chances of being exposed to cadmium include:
  • Smoking
  • Living near hazardous waste sites or industrial factories that release cadmium into the air
  • Working in a metal smelting and/or refining plant
  • Working in a plant that produces cadmium products, such as batteries, coatings, plastics, and pigments
  • Having a nutritional deficiency in calcium, iron, protein, and/or zinc


Eating food or drinking water contaminated with high levels of cadmium can result in:
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Kidney damage
  • Fragile bones
  • Death
Breathing in cadmium can result in:
  • Flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, chills, weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the nose, pharynx, and larynx—with chronic inhalation
Lung Damage from Toxic Inhalation
Lung infection chemical inhalation
The damaged lung tissue (bottom) has a buildup of green mucus and thickened walls compared to healthy tissue (top).
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
There is no conclusive evidence that cadmium can cause lung cancer, but, as a precaution, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified cadmium as a probable carcinogen in humans.

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