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Cadmium Toxicity

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Cadmium Toxicity

(Cadmium Poisoning)


Cadmium toxicity is exposure to toxic amounts 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. Cadmium toxicity can cause serious health problems. Care is needed right away.


Most cadmium used in the United States is a by-product of the production of metals like zinc, lead, and copper. It is also found in the following products:

  • Cigarettes
  • Batteries
  • Pigments
  • Metal coatings
  • Plastics
  • Some metal alloys
  • Fertilizers
  • Bright red, yellow, and orange pigments in some pottery or glassware paint

When cadmium enters the air, it binds to small particles. It falls to the ground or into water in 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 problems. Cadmium toxicity can happen from:

  • Breathing air that contains high levels of cadmium
  • Eating foods contaminated with 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

Risk Factors

Anyone can develop cadmium toxicity as a result of cadmium exposure. Things that may raise the risk of being exposed to cadmium include:

  • Smoking
  • Living near hazardous waste sites or industrial factories that release cadmium into the air
  • Working in a metal smelting or refining plant
  • Working in a plant that makes cadmium products, such as batteries, coatings, plastics, and pigments
  • Having a nutritional deficiency in calcium, iron, protein, or zinc


Eating food or drinking water contaminated with high levels of cadmium can result in:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Belly cramps
  • Diarrhea

It can lead to fragile bones, kidney damage, and death.

Breathing in cadmium can result in:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as body aches, chills, weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Belly pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the nose and breathing passages
Lung Damage from Toxic Inhalation.

The damaged lung tissue (bottom) has a buildup of green mucus and thickened walls compared to healthy tissue (top).

Lung infection chemical inhalationhttp://services.epnet.com/getimage.aspx?imageiid=70407040lung_infection.jpgLung infection chemical inhalationNULLjpgLung infection chemical inhalationNULL\\hgfiler01a\intellect\images\lung_infection.jpgNULL79NULL2008-03-05292399Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. You may be asked about any exposure to toxins. A physical exam will be done.

Tests will be done to look for signs of toxicity. This can be done with:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Hair or nail testing


There is no effective treatment for cadmium toxicity. The goal of treatment will be to manage and ease symptoms.


To lower the risk of cadmium toxicity:

  • Store substances that contain cadmium safely. These may include things like fertilizers.
  • Keep nickel-cadmium batteries out of the reach of young children.
  • Avoid smoking in enclosed spaces like inside the home or car.
  • Wear protective gear when working jobs that involve cadmium exposure. Avoid carrying cadmium-containing dust home from work on clothing, skin, hair, or tools.
  • Eat a balanced diet that provides enough calcium, iron, protein, and zinc.




  • Cadmium and cadmium compounds. OEHHA website. Available at: https://www.p65warnings.ca.gov/fact-sheets/cadmium-and-cadmium-compounds.
  • Cadmium compounds. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2016-09/documents/cadmium-compounds.pdf.
  • Cadmium poisoning. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cadmium-poisoning.
  • ToxFAQs for cadmium. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website. Available at: https://wwwn.cdc.gov/TSP/ToxFAQs/ToxFAQsDetails.aspx?faqid=47&toxid=15.


  • David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.