Cadmium Exposure

Health Effects from Cadmium Exposure

             Pursuant to Proposition 65, cadmium was listed as a chemical known to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm (male reproductive toxicant) on May 1, 1997 while cadmium and cadmium compounds were listed as carcinogens on October 1, 1987. (Cal.Code Regs., tit. 27, § 25805(b).) Similar to lead exposure, exposure to cadmium may create serious adverse health issues. Cadmium has no known beneficial function in the human body. Most of the cadmium that enters the body targets the kidney and liver and can remain in these organs for many years. Chronic oral exposure to cadmium builds up cadmium in the kidneys that can cause kidney disease. Chronic low-level exposures to cadmium can cause liver and bone damage in humans. [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (“ATSDR”), Tox FAQs for Cadmium, 2012]. People who do not have sufficient iron or other nutrients in their diet are more likely to uptake more cadmium from food than others with a better diet. (ATSDR, “Public Health Statement for Cadmium”, September 2012.) Only a small portion of the cadmium that enters the body leaves slowly in urine and feces. ATSDR (1999) estimated the biologic half-life of cadmium in the kidneys to be between 6 to 38 years and the half-life of cadmium in the liver is between 4 and 19 years. These long half-lives demonstrate that humans do not have effective pathways for the elimination of the chemical. Because excretion is slow, cadmium accumulation in the body can be significant.  (ATSDR, “Cadmium Toxicity, What is the Biological Fate of Cadmium in the Body? 2013). 


             For non-smokers, food is generally the largest source of cadmium exposure. The utilization of phosphate fertilizers and the application of pesticides or sewage sludge to agricultural areas can exacerbate cadmium levels in some foods. (ATSDR, “Toxicological Profile for Cadmium,”1997). Children are more vulnerable to chronic low-level exposures. Such exposures may cause developmental problems, including decreased birth weight, and interfere with neurobehavioral development, both which have been observed in various animal studies. Cadmium is found in breast milk and a small amount will pass to the infant from breastfeeding. (ATSDR, “Public Health Statement for Cadmium,” September 2012.)