Cadmium Poisoning

The Facts

Man-made cadmium (Cd) emissions can be transported between environmental matrices and the food chain. Food is the primary source of Cd exposure among general population as a consequence of the bio-concentration of Cd from soil. Chronic Cd exposure has been reported to be associated with chronic kidney disease, osteoporosis, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) established the safe level of Cd intake as provisional tolerable monthly intake (PTMI) of 25 μg/kg bw in 2010.

The Science

Cadmium is a heavy metal that is produced during the smelting of other metals, such as zinc lead and copper. Cadmium is most frequently used in the manufacture of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries found in mobile phones and cordless equipment. It is also used in plastics and fertilisers and soil.

Sources of exposure

Cigarette smoking – cigarettes contain cadmium and smokers inhale cadmium when they smoke. Smokers may receive twice the daily dose of cadmium as non-smokers. People breathing cigarette smoke can also inhale cadmium.

Food – vegetables, like potatoes and leafy vegetables, and cereal grains grown in contaminated soils with high levels of cadmium may contain small amounts of cadmium. Kidneys and livers of animals and shellfish can contain higher levels of cadmium than other foods.

Industrial areas – some industrial processes, such as metal smelting, release cadmium into the air. Controls are placed on industry to limit emission levels and ensure protection of public health.

Fertilised soils – in agricultural areas, phosphate fertilised soils may contain higher levels of cadmium than unfertilised soils.

Health effects of exposure to cadmium

The health effects associated with cadmium exposure depend on the way people are exposed to cadmium, how much has entered the person’s body, how long the person has been exposed for and how the person’s body responds to the exposure. Once cadmium enters the body, it is stored in the liver and kidneys, and then slowly excreted in urine.

Ingestion of cadmium

Eating food or drink contaminated with high levels of cadmium can cause stomach irritation, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Headaches and flu-like symptoms, swelling of the throat and tingling hands may also occur.

Large amounts of cadmium can damage the kidney, liver and heart and in severe cases may cause death.

Effects of cadmium exposure on children and babies

Children exposed to cadmium should have the same symptoms as adults. Small amounts of cadmium may be found in the breastmilk of women who were exposed to high cadmium levels.

Mothers exposed to high levels of cadmium in their workplace may have children with lower birth weights. Exposure to cadmium at normal environmental levels is not likely to cause mothers to have babies with low birth weights.


Cadmium and its compounds are classified as causing cancer. Breathing cadmium in the air can cause lung cancer, but ingesting contaminated food or drink is not thought to cause cancer.

Testing and treatment for cadmium

Urine tests can measure cadmium levels in the body. Tests are also available to check the health of the kidneys and liver.  Contact us to find out how to get tested for heavy metals including cadmium and how heavy metals may affect you and treatment available