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Cadmium - Cd


Cadmium metal : N° CAS : 7440-43-9

- atomic number : 48 - atomic weight : 112,41

- melting point : 320,9 °C - boiling point : 765 °C (769 °C)



Cadmium is a white, soft metal belonging to the so-called group of heavy metals.

Cadmium (Cd)


It is a natural element that is present in soil, water and air due to the abrasion of rocks, the erosion of soils, forest fires and volcanic eruptions. In some areas, cadmium is enriched in the environment due to the application of phosphate fertilizers or other anthropogenic activities. Although cadmium ores exist, cadmium is generally produced as a by-product from zinc production. Smaller amounts of cadmium are produced during the production of other non-ferrous metals such as lead and copper.


Cadmium is mainly utilized in rechargeable nickel-cadmium batteries, in solar cells, electronic applications, as pigments in plastics, glasses, ceramics or artistic paint, and it is also used to prevent ultraviolet degradation of certain plastics or to provide coatings to metals and alloys to make them corrosion-resistant, particularly in alkaline and seawater environments.


In Belgium, several non-ferrous metal production sites were developed in previous decades, with several zinc and copper smelters being built in the northern part of the country (Campine region). An adverse consequence of these activities is the mainly historical, local emission into air, water and soil of large amounts of contaminants such as cadmium.


The major route of cadmium intake by non-smokers is through the ingestion of food. This is because cadmium is present in trace amounts in foodstuffs: cadmium that is present in soil is readily taken up by vegetables and fodder crops, which are in turn used to feed animals or consumed directly by humans. For smokers, however, the major source of cadmium exposure is cigarette smoke. In the (human) body, cadmium accumulates mainly in the liver and kidneys. Cadmium (Cd)


At high levels, it can reach a critical threshold and can lead to serious kidney failure and increased risks of bone fractures.

Classification according to Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of 16 December 2008:

Carc. 1B; H350: May cause cancer

Muta. 2; H341: Suspected of causing genetic defects

Repr. 2: H 361fd: Suspected of damaging fertility or the unborn child

STOT RE 1; H372*: Causes damage to organs through prolonged or repeated exposure

Acute Tox. 2*; H330: fatal if inhaled

Aquatic Acute 1; H400: Very toxic to aquatic life

Aquatic Chronic 1; H410: Very toxic to aquatic life with long lasting effects


Reference: Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 16 december 2008 on classification, labeling and packaging of substances and mixtures, amending and repealing Directives 67/548/EEC and 1999/45/EC, and amending Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006. Official Journal of the European Union L353/1.


Maximum levels for cadmium in foodstuffs

COMMISSION REGULATION (EC) No 629/2008 of 2 July 2008 amending Regulation (EC) No 1881/2006 setting maximum levels for certain contaminants in foodstuffs.


Maximum cadmium content in products intended for animal feed.

DIRECTIVE 2002/32/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 May 2002 on undesirable substances in animal feed.


Tolerable human intake levels

The Joint FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations)/WHO (World Health Organization) Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) evaluated cadmium for the fourth time in 2001 where it maintained the Provisional Tolerable Weekly Intake (PTWI) of 7 µg/kg body weight. The WHO PTWI is based on a biomarker of toxicity (renal tubular dysfunction). In June 2010, the Joint FAO/WHO Committee on Food Safety (JECFA) reassessed Cadmium on the evidence provided by new epidemiological studies available. Given the high half-life of cadmium in the human body, the Committee deemed it preferable to determine a monthly threshold for Cadmium. Thus the PTWI of 7µg per kg of body weight was done away with and replaced by a PTMI (provisional tolerable monthly intake) of 25 µg per kg of body weight.


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) adopted an opinion in January 2009 establishing a new tolerable weekly intake level for cadmium (TWI) of 2.5 µg/kg body weight. The risk of adverse effects for groups that have exposure levels above the TWI is very low because the TWI is not based on actual kidney damage but on an early indicator of changes in kidney function suggesting possible kidney damage later in life. The EFSA's TWI value is lower than WHO's PTMI in spite of the fact that both values are based on the same epidemiological study. Nevertheless, the EFSA confirmed its TWI of 2.5 µg per kg of body weight in January 2011.



The Trace Elements Unit at CODA-CERVA has a long history in trace element analysis. Cadmium (Cd)

The current research projects concerning cadmium are emphazised on

(1) the determination of cadmium concentrations in crops for human consumption (potatoes, carrots, scorzonera, ...), in animal fodder crops (maize, pasture grass, silage grass) and in bovine tissues (meat, kidneys, liver), and

(2) the transfer of cadmium from different environmental compartments (soil, water, air) through the food chain.


Field sampling of crops for human consumption started in 2001 and continued over the years. This project focuses mainly on uncontaminated fields and studies the soil-plant transfer of cadmium.


In 2005, kidneys, liver and meat tissue of 150 bovine animals were sampled and analyzed for cadmium. The samples were collected on the one hand in three metal contaminated areas and on the other hand in rural areas away from trace element point sources, so-called reference areas.


Farms where the animals had resided for more than 18 months, were contacted and the farmers were asked to further participate voluntarily. In total, 53 farmers responded positively and the corresponding farms were visited in spring, summer and autumn in the period 2006-2007.


Fresh pasture grass, silage grass, hay, maize and other locally produced feed were collected at the farms. Well water and surface water were sampled if they served as a source of drinking water in the stable or in the pastures. Cadmium content was determined in all samples.


With this information, food chain transfer models were derived for cadmium.



The Trace Element Unit at CODA-CERVA is mainly dedicated to scientific research and services in the field of food safety, public and animal health. It provides analytical facilities for third parties by the determination of trace elements in food and animal feed. This activity is accredited according to the European Quality norm ISO 17025.


CODA-CERVA is the Belgian National Reference Laboratory (NRL) for the determination of trace elements in food and animal feed.


Nadia Waegeneers

Ann Ruttens

Karlien Cheyns



- Ruttens A., Waegeneers N., Witters N., De Temmerman L., Vangronsveld J. Controlling Cd food chain transfer in historically contaminated areas: the Belgian Campine case. Proceedings of the 8th International Cadmium Conference, Kunming, China, 10-11/11/2011. Organisation/publication by the International Cadmium Association (ICdA).


- De Temmerman L., Ruttens A., Waegeneers N., 2012. Impact of atmospheric deposition of As, Cd and Pb on their concentration in carrot and celeriac. Environmental Pollution, 166, pp. 187-195


- Waegeneers, N., Ruttens, A. and De Temmerman, L. 2011. A dynamic model to calculate cadmium concentrations in bovine tissues from basic soil characteristics. Science of the Total Environment, 409. pp 2815-2823.


-T. Nawrot, J. Staessen, H. Roels, E. Munters, A. Cuypers, T. Richart, A, Ruttens, K. Smeets, H. Clijsters, J. Vangronsveld, 2010, Cadmium exposure in the population: from health risks to strategies of prevention. Biometals, 23, 5, 769-782

- Vromman V, Waegeneers N, Cornelis C, De Boosere I, Van Holderbeke M, Vinkx C, Smolders E, Huyghebaert A, Pussemier L.
Dietary cadmium intake by the Belgian adult population. Food Addit Contam Part A Chem Anal Control Expo Risk Assess. 2010 Dec;27(12):1665-73


- Waegeneers, N., Pizzolon, J.-C., Hoenig, M. and De Temmerman, L. 2009. Accumulation of trace elements in cattle from rural and industrial areas in Belgium. Food Additives and Contaminants 26 : 326-332.
- Waegeneers, N., Pizzolon, J.-C., Hoenig, M. and De Temmerman, L. 2009. The European maximum level for cadmium in bovine kidneys is in Belgium only realistic for cattle up to two-years of age. Food Additives and Contaminants. 26 : 1239-1248

- De Temmerman L., Hoenig M. Transfert d'ETM toxiques des sols arables vers les pommes de terre, le froment et l'épeautre., 2009, 149-161. Chapitre 7 dans Contaminations métalliques des agrosystèmes et écosystèmes péri-industriels. Coordinateurs: Cambier Ph, Schvartz C., Van Oort F.


- Vromman, V., Saegerman, C., Pussemier, L., Huyghebaert, A., De Temmerman, L., Pizzolon, J.-C. and Waegeneers, N. 2008. Cadmium in the food chain near non-ferrous metal production sites. Food Additives and Contaminants 25 : 293-301.


- Harcz, P., De Temmerman, L., De Voghel, S., Waegeneers, N., Wilmart, O., Vromman, V., Schmit, J.-F., Moons, E., Van Peteghem, C., De Saeger, S., Schneider, Y.-J., Larondelle, Y. and Pussemier, L. 2007. Contaminants in organically and conventionally produced winter wheat (Triticum aestivum) in Belgium. Food Additives and Contaminants 24 : 713-720.


- Pizzolon, J.-C. and Hoenig, M. 2005. Analyse des échantillons alimentaires par ICP-MS. Développement et routine : où sont les différences ? Canadian Journal of Analytical Sciences and Spectroscopy 50 : 221-227.


- De Temmerman, L. and Hoenig, M. 2004. Biomonitoring lead and cadmium deposition. Journal of Atmospheric Chemistry 49 : 121-135.


- De Temmerman, L., Vanongeval, L., Boon, W., Hoenig, M. and Geypens, M. 2003. Heavy metal content of arable soils in Northern Belgium. Water, Air and Soil Pollution 148 : 61-76.