Diseases Caused by Cadmium

1. Introduction and Definitions

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal found in the environment and used in various industrial processes. Prolonged exposure to cadmium can lead to severe health issues, including cadmium poisoning and chronic diseases affecting the kidneys, lungs, and bones. Understanding the risks associated with cadmium exposure and implementing effective preventive measures is crucial for safeguarding worker health.

2. Agent Causes the Disease

Cadmium exposure primarily occurs through inhalation of cadmium dust or fumes and ingestion of cadmium-contaminated food or water. Once absorbed into the body, cadmium accumulates in organs such as the kidneys and liver, causing long-term damage. The most common sources of cadmium in industrial settings include:

  • Batteries: Cadmium is used in nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries.
  • Electroplating: Cadmium is used in coatings to prevent corrosion.
  • Pigments: Cadmium compounds are used in certain paints and plastics.
  • Manufacturing Processes: Cadmium is used in the production of semiconductors, solar cells, and alloys.

3. Workers at Risk of This Disease

Several occupations and tasks put workers at higher risk of cadmium exposure, including:

  • Battery Manufacturing Workers: Involved in the production and recycling of Ni-Cd batteries.
  • Metal Plating and Coating Workers: Engaged in electroplating and galvanizing processes.
  • Paint and Pigment Industry Workers: Handling cadmium-based pigments and paints.
  • Welders and Solderers: Exposure to cadmium fumes during metal joining processes.
  • Construction Workers: Especially those involved in demolition or renovation of structures containing cadmium materials.
  • Electronic Manufacturing Workers: Involved in the production of cadmium-containing components.

4. Symptoms

Symptoms of cadmium poisoning and related diseases can vary depending on the level and duration of exposure:

  • Acute Cadmium Poisoning: Symptoms include severe respiratory distress, chest pain, shortness of breath, cough, and flu-like symptoms. Acute exposure can lead to chemical pneumonitis and pulmonary edema.
  • Chronic Cadmium Exposure: Long-term exposure can result in kidney damage, bone demineralization (osteomalacia and osteoporosis), and respiratory issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema. Symptoms may include proteinuria (protein in urine), bone pain, fractures, and persistent cough.

5. Diagnosis

Diagnosing cadmium-related diseases involves a combination of clinical evaluation, occupational exposure assessment, and specific tests:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: Detailed assessment of the patient's work history and symptoms.
  • Blood and Urine Tests: Measuring cadmium levels in blood and urine to assess exposure.
  • Lung Function Tests: To evaluate respiratory impairment.
  • Imaging Tests: X-rays or CT scans to detect lung damage or bone demineralization.
  • Kidney Function Tests: Monitoring kidney function through tests such as glomerular filtration rate (GFR) and urine protein levels.

6. Treatment

There is no specific antidote for cadmium poisoning, so treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further exposure:

  • Remove from Exposure: Immediate removal from the source of cadmium exposure is crucial.
  • Chelation Therapy: In cases of severe cadmium poisoning, chelating agents such as EDTA may be used to bind cadmium and enhance its excretion.
  • Symptomatic Treatment: Providing supportive care for respiratory, kidney, and bone symptoms. This may include oxygen therapy, medications to manage pain and inflammation, and treatment for kidney dysfunction.
  • Long-term Monitoring: Regular follow-up to monitor kidney function, bone health, and respiratory status.

7. Prevention

Preventing cadmium-related diseases involves implementing strict control measures in the workplace:

  • Engineering Controls: Using local exhaust ventilation, dust collection systems, and closed processes to reduce airborne cadmium.
  • Work Practices: Implementing safe work practices such as proper handling and disposal of cadmium-containing materials, and avoiding eating, drinking, or smoking in areas where cadmium is used.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Providing and ensuring the use of appropriate respirators, protective clothing, and gloves.
  • Health Surveillance: Regular health screenings, including blood and urine cadmium levels, for workers exposed to cadmium.
  • Education and Training: Informing workers about the hazards of cadmium and safe work practices to minimize exposure.

By understanding the risks associated with cadmium exposure and implementing effective preventive measures, occupational health professionals can significantly reduce the incidence of cadmium-related diseases and enhance the overall well-being of workers.

Workplace Exposure Limits (Yellow phosphorus):

OSHA PEL (Occupational Safety and Health Administration):

  • The SECAL for cadmium is 15 µg/m3 or 50 µg/m3, depending on the processes involved.

The SECAL is a separate exposure limit to be achieved in specified processes and workplaces where it is not possible to achieve the PEL.