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:

  • Cigarettes
  • Batteries
  • Pigments
  • Metal coatings
  • Plastics
  • Some metal alloys
  • Fertilizers

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:

  • Breathing air that contains high levels of cadmium
  • Eating food containing high levels of cadmium, such as shellfish, liver, kidney, potatoes, and leafy vegetables
  • Drinking water contaminated with cadmium
  • Breathing in cigarette smoke, which doubles the average daily intake of cadmium