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Cadmium Element: How Bad it Can Affect the Human Body

Updated on May 29, 2013

Cadmium-Contaminated Importation

Several nights ago, "24 Oras" (a Philippine TV news program) reported some of the rice and rice-based products imported from China are contaminated with cadmium. Interviews with the importers and retailers were conducted how can they assure the consumers are buying rice and rice-products not contaminated with cadmium, some said they only buy from known suppliers and some said they make random tests by cooking and eating the products before offering it to the public. But who really cares about cadmium-contaminated importations? If you go to public markets, people buying rice do not mind asking where the rice came from. Is it from China or home grown? Is it from other Asian countries whose agricultural lands are contaminated as well? Who cares! The Philippines are flooded with imported products that contain poisonous lead and other harmful ingredients so again, the Filipinos are not threatened with this kind of news. Just let me broaden my knowledge and impart to you what really is cadmium and how it affects our health.

Cadmium was discovered in 1817 by Fredrich Stromeyer. It was named after cadmia, ancient term of zinc oxide which is still available today as calamine lotion. Cadmium is a transition metal bearing atomic number 48 in the periodic table, soft and bluish-white, occurring mainly in zinc, copper and lead ores. It is used as anti-corrosive to other metals and alloys and in the production of nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries.These batteries power up mobile phones, laptops, and digital cameras. Cadmium is also present in plastic containers and phosphate fertilizers. If handled without care, cadmium is poisonous.

Cadmium and cadmium compounds are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as carcinogenic to humans. Meaning, it can cause cancer to the human body. Prolonged exposure and the level of intake determine how bad it can affect our health.

Basically, cadmium is everywhere. It is in the air you breathe as you smoke cigarette or get near cigarette smokers. You ingest certain level of cadmium if you eat shellfish, kidney, liver meat, potato, carrots and other leafy vegetables. It is also present in the water you drink because cadmium enters the aquatic environment once zinc refinery plants dispose of their residues or garbage are disposed in water bodies. And most recently. lipsticks have been found to contain high level of cadmium, metal jewelries for children, plastic toys, and paint products as well.

Photo of Contaminated Rice


Reports from Other Agencies

According to a publication of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the effects on human health depend on the exposure to cadmium-contaminated air you breath or food you eat. If you work in or live nearby a smelting plant or metal refinery, you are prone to lung damage which may cause death. Cigarette smoke also contain cadmium from the paper used to roll the cigarette. Cadmium is the element that burns the paper slower. If your daily intake includes shellfish, liver, kidney meats and other foodstuff containing high-level of cadmium, chances are the formation of kidney stones.

A research, lead by Dr. Tsanangurayi Tongesayi , associate professor in Chemistry at Monmouth University in New Jersey , was presented at the annual meeting of American Chemical Society. It reveals that rice importations from Taiwan, China, the Czech Republic, Bhutan, Italy, India, and Thailand contain lead levels between 6 and 12 milligrams per kilogram of rice samples. What if cadmium is actually the chemical found in those rice importations? The provisional total tolerable intake (PTTI) recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) is only 0.4 tor 0.5 mg per week or 0.057 to 0.071 mg per day.

One kilogram of rice is good for 5 persons in a day. Assume the rice contains 6 milligrams of cadmium and is equally distributed to 5 persons: each one ingested 1.2 milligrams of cadmium in a day which is 17 times greater than the allowable daily intake.

Meanwhile, the Philippines will import 25,000 metric tons (MT) of rice from China with assurance from the National Rice Program Coordinator Dante Delima that screening at Customs level will be strictly observed. What happens then after the screening?

Effects of Cadmium on Several Organ Systems


Effects of Cadmium in Human Health

Cadmium is extremely inevitable. It is not an essential element to human life yet humans are exposed to it everyday at home, at work, on the streets or during recreation time.

Cadmium sources include gases from burned motor oils, rubber goods and tires, plastic and pigments, and volcanoes. Since it is used as plasticiser for PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) and PVC pipes are installed for drinking water, cadmium is transferred in the fluid. Even in the processing of cola drinks and instant coffees, cadmium is present. It is also absorbed by food in plastic wrappings, in canning and roasting fats in plated roasting pans.

Humans cannot avoid inhalation and ingestion of cadmium. Breathing in or digesting more than the allowable intake amount per day on a prolonged basis can cause damage to human body, for "too much of everything is dangerous". It has been known that cadmium affects the bone resulting to osteoporosis; the lungs by pulmonary irritation or in extreme cases lung cancer; the kidney, which is the target organ, by damaging its filtering mechanisms; or the reproductive system by failure or infertility.

Cadmium accumulates in the kidney and liver to remain there for a long time. It is only excreted slowly in little portion through urine or feces.

There is no cure for cadmium toxicity so the best way to do is prevent cadmium overdose by quitting cigarette smoking, inspecting paint products for cadmium contents, prohibiting children to possess inexpensive metal jewelries, avoiding plastic containers and plastic toys, protecting yourself from work environment using cadmium in production, inspecting food if not contaminated with cadmium, and being vigilant in all other things associated with cadmium.


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