Cadmium: Powering The World Through Toxicity

Cadmium: Powering The World Through Toxicity

The majority of people are aware of the risks posed by lead in their houses and water. In addition to filters that remove some heavy metals from our drinking water, we have tests to check for lead in our bodies. As you chew on your crisp carrot that was just dug out of the moist, luscious soil it grew in, keep in mind that cadmium is a hazardous but frequently used metal that you should be worried about eating.

Similar to silver or platinum, cadmium is a naturally occurring metal that is typically found in zinc ores. It is a chemical element with the atomic number 48 and the symbol Cd, and it shares chemical properties with zinc and mercury, the other two stable metals in Group 12 of the periodic chart. It has a bluish tint and is a light silvery-white color, which fades when exposed to air or moisture. Samir Jaber, a technical content writer and editor at Munich, Germany-based Matmatch GmbH, a materials science-based platform for material and supplier sourcing, says that this rare metal is also malleable and ductile, making it simple to shape. It also has a lower melting point than most other transition metals.

Cadmium is a common choice for coating steel for industrial uses because of its low melting point of 609 degrees Fahrenheit and resistance to corrosion. In comparison, rhodium has a high melting point of 3,595 degrees Fahrenheit, or 2,035 degrees Celsius. Additionally, it is a powerful energy conductor. The qualities of cadmium, however, can vary depending on the supplier and material grades, as Jaber points out. It is used to stabilize paint pigments in nuclear fission reactors, steel plating, batteries, solar power, and colors ranging from yellow to maroon. Cadmium does not have a taste or odor, but it is very harmful to people when exposed to it, according to Jaber.

There are two main ways that cadmium is released into the atmosphere: by natural occurrences like rock weathering, forest fires, or volcanoes; or through human activity like mining and manufacture. According to Jaber, "Cadmium exposure occurs mostly in sectors where cadmium-containing goods are manufactured or recycled, such as zinc mining, cadmium coating of steels, nickel-cadmium battery production, and others," through inhaling dust and fumes that are released during processes like smelting. More than 10,000 tons of cadmium have been released into the environment as a result of natural and man-made processes.

This hazardous metal can contaminate water supplies and crop-growing soil before showing up on your plate and affecting the majority of the non-smoking population. Smokers can now add cadmium to the list of things they do to themselves every time they take a drag because tobacco plant leaves are known to contain significant levels of the metal. According to Jaber, "Cadmium is highly hazardous to humans and can have an impact on the respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, reproductive, renal, and neurological systems of the body in addition to possibly causing cancer." You may be consuming, ingesting, or inhaling cadmium without even realizing it. Examples of cadmium toxicity include lung damage, bone toxicity, and the itai itai sickness.

Jaber advises that while people shouldn't be worried, they should be knowledgeable about the presence and concentration of cadmium in their environment. To decrease human exposure, the United States Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) has placed restrictions on the use of cadmium in a variety of industries. The 2006 release of the Batteries Directive by the European Union also established weight-based restrictions on the amount of cadmium that can be included in batteries and accumulators, with the exception of those used in medical and emergency equipment.

Jaber suggests that even while people shouldn't be alarmed, they should be aware of the amount of cadmium in their surroundings. The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) of the United States Department of Labor has restricted the use of cadmium in a number of industries in an effort to reduce human exposure. With the exception of those used in medical and emergency equipment, weight-based limits on the amount of cadmium that can be incorporated in batteries and accumulators were also established by the European Union with the issuance of the Batteries Directive in 2006.

Cadmium is most frequently used in nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries. They are used for industrial applications because of their high energy density and lengthy lifespan. Cadmium is being employed in the solar energy sector, according to Jaber. He notes that the use of cadmium is growing in the solar industry, where cadmium telluride (CdTe) solar cells are now the second-most used photovoltaic technology after crystalline silicon. This is due to the material's high absorption and nearly ideal bandgap energy, which enable it to convert solar radiation into electricity at a single connection.

Because cadmium is rarely present in tools or household batteries, you shouldn't be concerned about handling hazardous batteries or your solar-powered sidewalk lights. Even if you do come upon a cadmium-containing battery, any possible risk to you can be avoided with proper disposal. Although Ni-Cd batteries can be recycled at specific recycling locations, Jaber advises that because of their hazardous nature, they should be brought separately to a household hazardous waste disposal facility. "People should not be concerned, but it is important to know where and how to dispose of such batteries," says Jaber.