Cadmium - ChemicalSafetyFacts.org

Cadmium

Cadmium is a soft, silver-white metal found in the earth’s crust and throughout the environment. Most soil and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium.

Uses & Benefits

Battery

Cadmium metal helps produce batteries, particularly rechargeable nickel–cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries. In everyday applications, nickel-cadmium batteries help power products such as cordless power tools, cell phones, camcorders, portable computers, portable household appliances and toys. Ni-Cd batteries also have extensive applications in the railroad and aircraft industry, for ignition as well as emergency power.

Pigment

Cadmium pigments help create brilliant yellow, orange, red and maroon pigments in paints and coatings, and are added to plastics to give them color. Artists Henri Matisse and Claude Monet used cadmium pigments to create their well-known works of art, for example. As a pigment, cadmium can stay bright even after exposure to sunlight. Its opacity is especially useful when it comes to tinting plastics, for example in coloring the red bags used for infectious hospital waste and in protecting the PVC cladding on wires and cables against heat and light.

Metal Manufacturing

In metal manufacturing and finishing processes such as galvanizing and electroplating, cadmium helps keep metal from corroding.  

PVC Stabilizer

Cadmium-containing stabilizers are not used in US manufacturing of food-contact plastics. They may be used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used to make products such as window and door frames, water and drain pipes, hoses and electrical insulation. In these applications, they help keep the materials from degrading, for instance from exposure to heat and UV rays from sunlight.

Safety Information

Health concerns about cadmium exposure are generally in the context of children’s exposures.

Cadmium pigments:

Touching products that contain cadmium, for example, touching ceramics with cadmium paint, is generally not considered a health concern, as cadmium does not penetrate the skin barrier.

Children’s exposure to cadmium:

The uses of cadmium are restricted in materials and products intended for young children because children are more likely to bite or mouth plastic or metals in toys or cups. To protect children from harmful exposures to cadmium, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) prohibits the sale of toys in the United States that contain heavy metals, including cadmium, above certain levels. In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act’s (CPSIA) federal toy safety standard incorporated a modified version of ASTM F963-16 by reference, thereby requiring toy manufacturing companies to certify that their products comply with its relevant standards, regulations, and tests – including applicable heavy metal limits – before they can be sold in the United States. In recent years, cadmium was found in some imported children’s jewelry and cups, prompting new voluntary industry standards – including more stringent limits for heavy metals.

Cadmium in industrial settings:

Cadmium is often present in industrial settings in metals and welding operations. Potential worker exposure to cadmium, however, is well-regulated by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA has set a Permissible Exposure Limit, or PEL, of 5 micrograms of cadmium per cubic meter of air, which is enforced by the agency. Where the PEL is exceeded or where skin or eye irritation can result from cadmium exposure, OSHA regulations require additional respiratory protection and other protective work clothing to protect workers.

Answering Questions

What is cadmium used for?

Cadmium helps created bright, long-lasting pigments used in paints and coatings and to give tint to plastics and ceramics. Some PVC in building and construction and electronics uses cadmium stablizers. Cadmium also helps makes batteries used to power cell phones, laptops and other electronics.

Where is cadmium found?

Cadmium is a naturally occurring metal found in the earth’s crust. Most soil and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium.

Is there any cadmium in food?

Because cadmium is naturally found in water and soil, it is taken up by plants as they grow. For example, small amounts of cadmium can sometimes be found in: seaweed, peanuts, sunflower seeds, leafy greens, potatoes, bread, and mushrooms. Cadmium can also be found in small amounts in seafood and in organ meats, such as the liver and kidneys, of some animals.

Is cadmium contaminating drinking water?

Drinking water can contain very small amounts of cadmium.  The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the level of certain contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur and to set a safe concentration level called a maximum contaminant level (MCL).  EPA’s MCL for cadmium is 0.005 mg/L or 5 parts per billion (ppb).

Is cadmium a health concern?

The CPSC regulates the safety of toys and other children’s products. Although concerns about cadmium in children’s jewelry have been expressed in the past, recent CPSIA amendments have substantially tightened consumer protection for these products.

FDA has also tested cosmetics for cadmium, found that the amounts of cadmium were very small, and concluded the small amounts found in its review would not pose a health risk. 

Worker environments with higher potential cadmium exposure include industrial processes that involve heating cadmium-containing materials, such as smelting and electroplating.  Worker exposure to cadmium can be controlled through personal protective equipment, good industrial hygiene practices, and control and reduction of cadmium emissions to help protect worker health.

Is cadmium poisoning a concern?

To address concerns about possible cadmium poisoning, uses are restricted in materials and products intended for young children because children are more likely to bite or mouth plastic or metals in toys or cups that could contain small amounts of cadmium. To protect children from harmful exposures to cadmium, the U.S. CPSC also prohibits the sale of toys in the United States that contain heavy metals, including cadmium, above designated levels. For more information, the national Poison Control Center also provides immediate, expert assistance on any potential poison exposures.