Cadmium: Should You Be Afraid?

cigarette on a rock
Flickr photo by viima
The last time I wrote about cadmium poisoning six months ago, it was because a huge investigation by the Associated Press found large amounts of the toxic metal in certain pieces of kids' jewelry made in China and sold to the U.S.

I'm writing about it today because it's shown up again in those ugly recalled Shrek glasses from McDonalds that I wouldn't want in my kitchen cabinets anyway.

And why do I have a funny feeling this is not the last we're going to hear about it, hmmm?

Because everyone wants to know what it is and what it can do, read on for a few facts from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry.

Yes, cadmium is bad news. It's the 7th worst material on the CDC's List of Most Hazardous Substances in the Environment, and kids tend to suffer worse effects. But adults are exposed to cadmium, too, every day. And not just from toys.


Where we get it from:

  • Cigarettes (it's in smoke, and it's a known carcinogen, which means it causes cancer);
  • Industrial settings with contaminated air;
  • Drinking polluted water;
  • From foods, especially shellfish and kidney and liver meats.

How can it hurt us:

Low levels have not been shown to causes any major health problems, which is a good thing, because we all probably have some in us. But higher levels from direct exposure, especially over time, can lead to dire consequences:

  • Breathing high levels of cadmium can severely damage the lungs;
  • Eating food or drinking water with very high levels severely irritates the stomach, leading to vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Long-term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease;
  • Other long-term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.

While the government has put limits on cadmium in drinking water and in the workplace, there are currently no restrictions on cadmium in jewelry and certain other consumer products.

Should you be afraid? Not really. Just don't work for an OSHA violator, smoke, eat kidney pie more than once a week, or drink unregulated lake water from a Shrek glass and you'll probably be fine.

Are you worried about cadmium exposure?

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