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Worried About Cadmium Exposure? Here’s What You Should Know

March 14, 2018

Red-AA-batteries-Cadmium-AdobeStock_53167737.1920.jpgIs cadmium used in your materials or processes? Then your employees may be at risk for cadmium toxicity. Here’s what employers should know about who is at risk, what to watch for, and regulatory requirements for cadmium exposure reduction.

Who Is at Risk for Cadmium Exposure?

Cadmium has long been used in pigments, anti-corrosive coatings, and battery production. Over the last decade, regulatory and consumer pressure has reduced its use in the battery and coating industries significantly. However, it is still widely used in electroplating and remains a common ingredient in red, yellow, or orange pigments used in glass, ceramics, paints, and coatings. It is also used as a plastic stabilizer.

Cadmium poses little risk as a solid material or as a component in finished products. But inhaling it is a different story: workers exposed to cadmium dust or fumed particulates are at risk for serious health impacts. Workers most at risk include:

  • Electroplaters
  • Workers handling raw pigments containing cadmium
  • Workers engaged in grinding, machining, cutting or welding materials with cadmium-containing coatings or pigments
  • Workers exposed to plastic dusts or fumes from plastic processing where cadmium is used as a stabilizer
  • Workers in the solar panel industry

Cadmium Exposure and Human Health

Cadmium exposure is associated with a number of acute and chronic health risks. These include:

  • Flu-like symptoms similar to “metal fume fever”
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Chemical pneumonitis
  • Chronic lung disease such as emphysema or Chronic Pulmonary Obstructive Disease (COPD)
  • Lung cancer
  • Kidney disease and chronic renal failure
  • Bone lesions or reduced bone mass

Regulatory Requirements for Cadmium Exposure

If your processes produce respirable cadmium dust, you are required to protect workers by reducing exposure levels below Permissible Exposure Levels (PELs) set by the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

  • The OSHA PEL for cadmium for most industries is 5 micrograms of cadmium per cubic meter of air (5 µg/m3) for all cadmium compounds, dust and fumes.
  • OSHA has set Separate Engineering Control Air Limits (SECALs) for industries where reaching the PEL is not considered technically feasible, including the battery industry, zinc/cadmium refining, pigment processing and manufacturing, plastic stabilizer production, lead smelting, and mechanical plating. Employers in these industries should consult OSHA for the SECAL for their industry.
  • OSHA has set an Action Limit (AL) for cadmium exposure of 2.5 micrograms per cubic meter of air (2.5 µg/m3) for all industries. Workers exposed to cadmium dust above the AL for more than 30 days out of the year must have a respirator available to them and be enrolled in a medical surveillance program to monitor for negative health impacts.

Want to know more about cadmium dust exposure and control? Download our white paper: Reducing Occupational Exposure to Cadmium.