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Cadmium is a chemical element in the periodic table that has the symbol Cd and atomic number 48. A relatively rare, soft, bluish-white, transition metal, cadmium is known to cause cancer and occurs with zinc ores. Cadmium is used largely in batteries and pigments, for example for plastic products.
Cadmium (Latin cadmia , Greek kadmeia meaning "calamine") was discovered in Germany in 1817 by Friedrich Strohmeyer. Strohmeyer found the new element within an impurity in zinc carbonate (calamine) and for 100 years Germany remained the only important producer of the metal.
The metal was named after the Latin word for calamine since the metal was found in this zinc compound. Strohmeyer noted that some impure samples of calamine changed color when heated but pure calamine did not.
Even though cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic, the British Pharmaceutical Codex from 1907 states that cadmium iodide was used as a medicine to treat "enlarged joints, scrofulous glands, and chilblains".
Cadmium-containing ores are rare and when found they occur in small quantities. Greenockite (CdS), the only cadmium mineral of importance, is nearly always associated with sphalerite (ZnS). Consequently, cadmium is produced mainly as a byproduct from mining, smelting, and refining sulfide ores of zinc, and to a lesser degree, lead and copper.
Small amounts of cadmium, about 10% of consumption, are produced from secondary sources, mainly from dust generated by recycling iron and steel scrap. Production in the United States began in 1907 but it was not until after World War I that cadmium came into wide use.
Cadmium is an occupational hazard associated with industrial processes such as metal plating and the production of nickel-cadmium batteries, pigments, plastics and other synthetics. The primary route of exposure in industrial settings is inhalation. Inhalation of cadmium-containing fumes can result initially in metal fume fever but may progress to chemical pneumonitis, pulmonary edema, and death.
Cadmium is also a potential environmental hazard. Human exposures to environmental cadmium are primarily the result of the burning of fossil fuels and municipal wastes. However, there have been notable instances of toxicity as the result of long-term exposure to cadmium in contaminated food and water.
In the decades following World War II, Japanese mining operations contaminated the Jinzu River with cadmium and traces of other toxic metals. Consequently, cadmium accumulated in the rice crops growing along the riverbanks downstream of the mines. The local agricultural communities consuming the contaminated rice developed Itai-itai disease and renal abnormalities, including proteinuria and glucosuria.
Cadmium and several cadmium-containing compounds are known carcinogens and can induce many types of cancer. The mechanism of cadmium toxicity has not been established. One possible reason for its toxicity is that it interferes with the action of zinc-containing enzymes. TOXICITY
Zinc is an important element in biological systems, but cadmium, although similar to zinc chemically in many ways, apparently does not substitute or "stand in" for it well at all. Cadmium may also interfere with biological processes containing magnesium and calcium in a similar fashion.
PRECAUTIONS While working with cadmium it is important to do so under a fume hood or with the use of an appropriate respirator to protect against dangerous fumes. Solder, for example, which may contain cadmium, should be handled with care.
Naturally occurring cadmium is composed of 8 isotopes. For two of them, natural radioactivity was observed, and three others are predicted to be radioactive but their decays were never observed, due to extremely long half-life times.
The two natural radioactive isotopes are 113Cd (beta decay, half-life is 7.7 X 1015 years) and 116Cd (two-neutrino double beta decay, half-life is 2.9 X 1019 years). The other three are 106Cd, 108Cd (double electron capture), and 114Cd (double beta decay); only lower limits on their half-life times have been set.
At least three isotopes - 110Cd, 111Cd, and 112Cd - are absolutely stable. Among the isotopes absent in the natural cadmium, the most long-lived are 109Cd with a half-life of 462.6 days, and 115Cd with a half-life of 53.46 hours.
ISOTOPES All of the remaining radioactive isotopes have half-lives that are less than 2.5 hours and the majority of these have half-lives that are less than 5 minutes. This element also has 8 known meta states with the most stable being 113mCd (t½ 14.1 years), 115mCd (t½ 44.6 days) and 117mCd (t½ 3.36 hours).
The known isotopes of cadmium range in atomic mass from 94.950 u (95Cd) to 131.946 u (132Cd). The primary decay mode before the second most abundant stable isotope, 112Cd, is electron capture and the primary modes after are beta emission and electron capture. The primary decay product before 112Cd is element 47 (silver) and the primary product after is element 49 (indium).
Cadmium forms various salts, with cadmium sulfide being the most common. This sulfide is used as a yellow pigment. Cadmium selenide can be used as red pigment, commonly called cadmium red . To painters who work with the pigment, cadmium yellows, oranges and reds are the most potent colors to use.
In fact, during production these colors are significantly toned down before they are ground with oils and binders, or blended into watercolors, gouaches, casesin, acrylics and other paint and pigment formulations. These pigments are toxic and it is recommended to use a barrier cream on your hands to prevent absorption through the skin when working with them.
The main sources of cadmium in the air are the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or oil and the incineration of municipal waste. The acute (short-term) effects of cadmium in humans through inhalation exposure consist mainly of effects on the lung, such as pulmonary irritation.
Chronic (long-term) inhalation or oral exposure to cadmium leads to a build-up of cadmium in the kidneys that can cause kidney disease. Cadmium has been shown to be a developmental toxicant in animals, resulting in fetal malformations and other effects, but no conclusive evidence exists in humans.
An association between cadmium exposure and an increased risk of lung cancer has been reported from human studies, but these studies are inconclusive due to confounding factors. Animal studies have demonstrated an increase in lung cancer from long-term inhalation exposure to cadmium. The EPA has classified cadmium as a Group B1, probable human carcinogen.