Are children at risk?

Recent media attention has brought light on cadmium exposure in young children.  Cadmium, a natural element in the earth’s crust is found nearly everywhere in nature.  According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services, cadmium is found in all soils and rocks, including many fertilizers.

It is used in the process of making batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics.  It is commonly found in inexpensive children’s toys, jewelry, and painted products.

In recent years, with the recalls of manufactured goods containing high levels of lead, some companies that produce inexpensive children’s toys and jewelry turned to cadmium as an inexpensive alternative to lead to manufacture their products.

How can cadmium affect a child’s health?

Exposure to high levels of cadmium can cause stomach irritation, vomiting, and diarrhea.  Some studies have linked cadmium to bone pain and the potential for decreased bone strength, especially in children.  Very high levels of cadmium in the blood have also been linked to toxic effects on the kidneys.

Additionally, a 2012 article by Ciesielski et al, states that children with the highest levels of cadmium detected in a urine specimen (the most common way to test for cadmium exposure) may be at increased risk for a learning disability.

While this study was not very large, it does highlight a concern that several parents have expressed to me about their child’s exposure to cadmium. Of note, there was no increased risk for ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder).

How are children exposed to cadmium?

Young children playing with cadmium-containing jewelry, can be exposed to higher levels of cadmium if they are frequently sucking or chewing on the necklaces, bracelets, etc. Often inexpensive/play jewelry contains higher levels of cadmium.

Cadmium is found in cigarettes and is released into the air, making it a cadmium exposure risk to non-smokers through second-hand smoke.

Nickel-cadmium batteries (the name gives it away) also contain cadmium.  Children should not be allowed to play with the batteries and under no circumstance be allowed to put batteries in their mouths. Games containing the batteries are OK.

Adults who work in facilities which produce products using cadmium can expose children through the cadmium dust left on clothes and shoes when they return home.

All foods contain very low levels of cadmium, with the highest levels found in shellfish, liver, and kidney meats.

How do I keep my child from being overly exposed to cadmium?

Young children should be discouraged from having and playing with toys and jewelry that contain cadmium.  Look for toys and jewelry that is listed as cadmium free.

Avoid exposure to all forms of tobacco smoke. If there wasn’t already enough reason to keep your children away from second-hand smoke, here is yet another on a list that is growing seemingly by the week.

Parents who work in facilities using cadmium should remove shoes and clothing that may contain cadmium dust prior to coming into the home and placing them in a place where young children will not come in contact with them.

Keep products that contain cadmium in the home, including nickel-cadmium batteries, out of reach of children.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recently approved a voluntary standard limiting cadmium levels in children’s jewelry, requiring the jewelry to undergo further testing if it contains more than 300 parts per million of cadmium (0.03%).  Several states and the European Union have similar limits or complete bans on the amount of cadmium allowed in products sold.

Is there a treatment for cadmium exposure?

Currently, there is no universal treatment for children with high levels of cadmium, other than to remove any potential sources for their exposure from their daily activities. Similar to products which contain lead; parents should be discouraged from giving their children toys and jewelry which contain cadmium as well as eliminating a child’s exposure to second-hand smoke. The majority of children do not need to have a level of cadmium checked from their urine and taking simple measures to avoid overexposure will help to significantly decrease the risk of cadmium related health effects.

A list from healthystuff.org of approximately 900 common household toys and products were tested for levels of toxic chemicals including, lead, cadmium, mercury, and others.  The items tested as well as information on how the levels were obtained can be found here.

For more information about cadmium and other toxic elements such as lead and arsenic, please consult with your pediatrician.

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