Cadmium (Cd) is a soft, malleable, bluish white metal found in zinc ores, and to a much lesser extent, in the cadmium mineral greenockite. In 2011, US production of cadmium was estimated at 600 metric tons, down approximately 40% from the production levels 20 years ago (1992). Most of the cadmium produced today is obtained from zinc byproducts and recovered from spent nickel-cadmium batteries. First discovered in Germany in 1817, cadmium found early use as a pigment because of its ability to produce brilliant yellow, orange, and red colors. Cadmium became an important metal in the production of nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd) rechargeable batteries and as a sacrificial corrosion-protection coating for iron and steel. Common industrial uses for cadmium today are in batteries, alloys, coatings (electroplating), solar cells, plastic stabilizers, and pigments. Cadmium is also used in nuclear reactors where it acts as a neutron absorber. While lithium ion batteries have made significant gains in popularity for lightweight electronic devices, new market opportunities for industrial applications of Ni-Cd batteries will continue to fuel cadmium use. Increased investment in solar power will also drive cadmium use in the future. China, South Korea, and Japan are the leading producers of cadmium in the world, followed by North America.
Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body's cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems. Requirements to protect workers from cadmium exposure are addressed in specific OSHA cadmium standards covering general industry (1910.1027), shipyards (1915.1027), construction (1926.1127) and agriculture (1928.1027).
Who is exposed to cadmium?
OSHA estimates that 300,000 workers are exposed to cadmium in the United States. Worker exposure to cadmium can occur in all industry sectors but mostly in manufacturing and construction. Workers may be exposed during smelting and refining of metals, and manufacturing batteries, plastics, coatings, and solar panels. The expanding Ni-Cd battery recycling industry is a concern for cadmium exposure. Electroplating, metal machining, welding and painting are operations associated with cadmium exposure. Workers involved in landfill operations, the recycling of electronic parts, or the recycling of plastics may be exposed to cadmium. Compost workers and waste collectors are also potentially exposed to dust which may contain cadmium. The incineration of municipal waste is another source of cadmium exposure.
Where is exposure to cadmium occurring?
Cadmium is an important metal for many types of businesses and industrial processes. Cadmium is most often used in the manufacturing sector but worker exposure can also occur in other industry sectors including construction, wholesale trade, and transportation. OSHA provides a publicly available Chemical Exposure Health Database which includes industrial hygiene sample results taken by OSHA field personnel during site visits. These data can provide a snapshot of industry sectors and business subcategories where cadmium air concentrations have been found. The industry profile tables in this website are based on cadmium samples taken during OSHA inspections from 2005 to 2009. While the tables represent only a small fraction of the total number of companies in their respective industries, the results can provide insight into where workplace cadmium exposure is occurring in the United States.
How do I find out about employer responsibilities and workers' rights?
Workers have a right to a safe workplace. The law requires employers to provide their employees with safe and healthful workplaces. The OSHA law also prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law (including the right to raise a health and safety concern or report an injury). For more information see www.whistleblowers.gov or Workers' rights under the OSH Act.
OSHA can help answer questions or concerns from employers and workers. To reach your regional or area OSHA office, go to the OSHA Offices by State webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742).
Small businesses may contact OSHA's free On-site Consultation services funded by OSHA to help determine whether there are hazards at their worksites. To contact free consultation services, go to OSHA's On-site Consultation webpage or call 1-800-321-OSHA (6742) and press number 4.
Workers may file a complaint to have OSHA inspect their workplace if they believe that their employer is not following OSHA standards or that there are serious hazards. Workers can file a complaint with OSHA by calling 1-800-321-OSHA (6742), online via eComplaint Form, or by printing the complaint form and mailing or faxing it to the local OSHA area office. Complaints that are signed by a worker are more likely to result in an inspection.
If you think your job is unsafe or if you have questions, contact OSHA at 1-800-321-OSHA (6742). Your contact will be kept confidential. We can help. For other valuable worker protection information, such as Workers' Rights, Employer Responsibilities, and other services OSHA offers, visit OSHA's Workers' page.
Steps Employers and Workers Can Take to Prevent Cadmium Exposures
- Engineering Controls
- Administrative Controls
- Personal Protective Equipment
- Respiratory Protection
- Protective clothing
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