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:
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:
Anyone can develop cadmium toxicity as a result of cadmium exposure. Factors that increase your chances of being exposed to cadmium include:
Eating food or drinking water contaminated with high levels of cadmium can result in:
Breathing in cadmium can result in:
Lung Damage from Toxic Inhalation
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There is no conclusive evidence that cadmium can cause lung cancer but, as a precaution, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified cadmium as a probable carcinogen in humans.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.
Tests may include the following:
There is no effective treatment for cadmium toxicity. Your treatment will be designed to help manage and relieve your symptoms.
To help reduce your chances of getting cadmium toxicity, take the following steps:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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Public health statement for cadmium. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/phs/phs.asp?id=46&tid=15. Updated September 2012. Accessed April 3, 2013.
Safety and health topics: cadmium. US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration website. Available at: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/cadmium/. Accessed April 3, 2013.
ToxFAQs for cadmium. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxfaqs/tf.asp?id=47&tid=15. Updated April 2, 2013. Accessed April 3, 2013.
Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/18/2013