Cadmium Role In Improving Lives And Potential Unintended Consequences


Cadmium is a silvery white, malleable metal with a bluish hue in its pure form. Cadmium is a relatively rare metal, ranking 67th in abundance among the 90 naturally occurring elements on Earth, found naturally in the earth’s crust(Adriano, 2001). It is tasteless and odorless. Chemical analysis isoften required to detect its presence of cadmium.

Role of Cadmium in the Modern World

Cadmiumwas previously a leather-tanning agent or as a pigment in dyes. Today, cadmium uses are primarily in rechargeable batteries, usually in combination with nickel or silver oxides. Scientists use solar rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries on space exploration missions, including the Magellan probe that explored the planet Venus(Nordberg & Kjellströl, 1974).

In the United States, the use of cadmium in batteries accounts for roughly three quarters of the cadmium consumption. Since it is a disposable consumer product, Ni-Cad batteries also account for over half of the cadmium waste produced. Most consumer products contain sealed Ni-Cad batteries as opposed to the vented Ni-Cad batteries used in aircraft, buses and diesel locomotives, which emit a significant amount of cadmium to the environment.

Cadmium plays a big role in several pioneering technologies such as solar cells, through applications that take advantage of its unique physical properties (Nordberg& Kjellströl, 1974). Cadmium, grouped as a transition metal can act as both an electrical conductor and insulator depending on slight alterations in its chemical structure. Chemical cadmium stabilizes certain plastics, and it produces special solder alloys that melt at relatively low temperatures.

Health effects of Cadmium

Exposure to cadmium can cause serious health effects, including reduced growth and development, organ damage, cancer, nervous system damage, and in extreme cases, death (Nordberg & Kjellströl, 1974). Exposure to cadmium over a long period may also cause development of autoimmunity, in which a person’s immune system attacks its own cells. This can lead to joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, and diseases of the kidneys, circulatory system, and nervous system. Metals such as cadmium are particularly toxic to the sensitive rapidly developing systems of the fetus, infants, and young children. Childhood exposure to cadmium can result in learning difficulties, memory impairment, damage to the nervous system, and behavioral problems such as aggressiveness and hyperactivity. At higher doses, cadmium can cause irreversible brain damage. Children may receive higher doses of metals from food than adults may, since they consume more food for their body weight than adults do (Nordberg & Kjellströl, 1974).

Position of the U.S. FDA and EPA regarding Cadmium

The federal government develops recommendations, or guidelines, and regulations enforced by law to protect public health. Federal agencies that develop regulations for toxic substances include the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Federal organizations that develop guidelines or recommendations for toxic substances include the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)(Zenk, 1996).

Under EPA regulations, public drinking water supplies cannot exceed five parts of cadmium per billion parts of water (5 ppb). The EPA also limits the amount of cadmium put into lakes, rivers, dumps, and cropland, and does not allow cadmium usage in pesticides. The FDA limits the amount of cadmium in food colors to 15 parts per million (ppm)(Adriano, 2001). The OSHA limit for cadmium in workplace air is 5 micrograms per cubic meter. Label requirements on packages containing cadmium are enough to alert people in order for them to take precaution.

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