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Cadmium

What is it and where it is found?

Cadmium is a naturally occurring element. All soil and rocks contain some amount of cadmium. One of its primary uses is in nickel-cadmium batteries.

How do people come into contact with it?

Cadmium increases the strength of metal alloys used in consumer products like children’s jewelry. It is also used to create the red, orange, and yellow pigments in products like drinking glasses and toy paints. Cadmium is used in a variety of industrial applications, including agricultural fertilizers.

Because cadmium is commonly present in soil, food that is grown in the ground such as leafy greens, potatoes, grains, peanuts, and soybeans contain cadmium.

However, people mainly come into contact with it in the workplace where cadmium products are made, in industries like electro-plating and metallurgy. It is also in PVC products.

Cadmium is also a component of cigarette smoke.

What health concerns are associated with cadmium?

At high levels, cadmium damages the kidneys, lungs, and bones. It is also a carcinogen (cancer-causing) chemical. Acute (immediate) cadmium poisoning includes symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and cramping, which usually only occur if cadmium is swallowed. 

What can you do to protect yourself, your family and your employees?

  • Be cautious of children’s jewelry, as some imported products may contain high levels of cadmium.
  • Keep paints, PVC plastic and batteries away from children.
  • Do not throw used batteries in the trash; properly dispose of them at hazardous materials collection sites.
  • People working with cadmium should follow safety guidelines for cadmium, as outlined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
  • If working in a job where you come into contact with cadmium, take off work clothes and shoes before entering your home and shower immediately.
  • Avoid tobacco smoke.

What's being done to protect public health?

OSHA developed health protective standards for workers exposed to cadmium in the workplace, which employers are required to follow. Click here for more information.

Many states have passed legislation banning cadmium in paints. Strong environmental regulations have persuaded metal finishers to find non-toxic alternatives to cadmium in metal plating.

Children’s advocates have raised awareness to high levels of the cadmium sometimes found in imported children’s toys and jewelry. Many states and countries are in the process of passing legislation banning its use in children’s products.

Where can I get more information?

Occupational Safety & Health Administration, Cadmium

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Cadmium