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 by-product of the production of metals like 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 into water in 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:
The damaged lung tissue (bottom) has a buildup of green mucus and thickened walls compared to healthy tissue (top).
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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.
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with:
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 cadmium toxicity:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Environmental Protection Agency
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Cadmium compounds. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/haps/health-effects-notebook-hazardous-air-pollutants. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Cadmium poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114744/Cadmium-poisoning. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Cadmium and cadmium compounds. OEHHA website. Available at: https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/cadmium-and-cadmium-compounds. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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. Accessed January 29, 2021.
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. Accessed January 29, 2021.
Last reviewed March 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP Last Updated: 1/29/2021