Human Health Risk
Ecological Risk
Socioeconomic Risk
Cadmium is a rare, naturally-occurring metal found in the atmosphere as a result of
volcanic activity, ocean spray, and forest fires. Industrially, cadmium is used in electroplating processes, pigments, batteries, plastics, and alloys. Exposure can occur
through direct ingestion of contaminated soil and by ingestion of plants grown in contaminated soil. Relatively high concentrations of cadmium can occur in shellfish. Shellfish ingest sediments as they feed, which may expose humans who consume them to
harmful levels. Human exposures can also result from air and drinking water concentrations. Chronic low level exposures may result in kidney damage, and cadmium is a
carcinogen by inhalation.
What’s at risk?
What are the human health impacts in New
Background levels to which the general population
is exposed (including food, air, and drinking water
pathways) are estimated at 30-50 micrograms per
day. More than 95% of this exposure results from
levels of cadmium in the general food supply.
Changes in kidney function have been observed
beginning at 200 micrograms per day. The extent to
which these changes predict serious kidney problems is unclear. However, recent research indicates
that even at background levels, about 1% of the
population may develop adverse health effects.
Subsistence shellfishing populations may be exposed to cadmium levels seven times higher than
background, placing them over the threshold for
changes in kidney function. New Jersey air concentrations are below the level at which scientists
expect additional cancers might occur. There are
few data indicating that cadmium exposure in New
Jersey results in significant kidney effects.
There are no regions in the state with excessively
high cadmium levels as a result of industrial waste,
however, the high sensitivity of aquatic invertebrates puts all aquatic habitats potentially at risk.
These organisms are an integral part of the food
chain, and cadmium can accumulate virtually
everywhere as a result of atmospheric deposition.
While there is no regular monitoring for cadmium
in New Jersey, soil sampling for cadmium near
contaminated sites has shown elevated levels. In
most cases, the samples exceeded the benchmark
by a factor of two or less.
What are the socioeconomic impacts in
New Jersey?
Available evidence does not indicate that cadmium
poses a threat to employment or property values.
Estimates indicate that the cost of illnesses associated with cadmium are low, however, the damage
to kidney function is permanent. Therefore, the
socioeconomic risks are judged to be low to
What’s being done?
Industrial discharges of cadmium to the environment are regulated, and cadmium-contaminated
hazardous waste sites are cleaned up in accordance
with federal and state law. There are no regulations
on food, which is the biggest source of exposure
in human populations. Use of cadmium in consumer products is being reduced.
Final Report of the New Jersey State Comparative Risk Project
The general population is exposed to low levels of
cadmium in food. Subpopulations at increased risk
include subsistence fishing populations and others
who consume shellfish from cadmium concentrated waters. Increased dietary exposure may also
result from consumption of crops grown on soil
amended with cadmium-containing sludge. Freshwater aquatic organisms are most sensitive to
cadmium, marine organisms are less sensitive, and
mammals and birds are comparatively resistant.
Since cadmium bioaccumulates, freshwater species
higher on the food chain are particularly vulnerable.
What are the ecological impacts in New