Cadmium is an element found in low concentrations in the earth’s crust. It is usually found as a mineral combined with other elements such as oxygen (cadmium oxide), chlorine (cadmium chloride), or sulfur (cadmium sulfate, cadmium sulfide).

All soils and rocks, including coal and mineral fertilizers, contain some cadmium. Most cadmium used in the United States is extracted during the production of other metals like zinc, lead, and copper. Cadmium has many uses, including in the production of batteries, pigments, metal coatings, and plastics.

Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure is known to cause cancer. It is primarily associated with human lung, prostate, and kidney cancers, and recently pancreatic cancer. It has also been associated with cancers of the breast and urinary bladder.

The general population may be exposed to small amounts of cadmium daily through food, tobacco smoke (as active or secondhand smoke), drinking water, and air. Cadmium is introduced to the food chain through agricultural soils, which may naturally contain cadmium; anthropogenic (human) sources; cadmium-based pigments; and stabilizers used in certain plastics. While dietary sources can be sporadic, intake from tobacco occurs with each cigarette smoked and can proceed for decades, resulting in accumulation of metals like cadmium in the body. Cadmium levels are expected to be low in drinking water and ambient air, except in the vicinity of cadmium-emitting industries or incinerators.

Occupational exposure to cadmium primarily occurs in operations involving heating cadmium-containing products. Occupations with the highest potential for exposure include alloy production, battery production, pigment production and use, plastics production, and smelting and refining. Although levels vary widely among the different industries, occupational exposures generally have decreased since the 1970s.

We present exposure data on the 95th percentile of the population, representing people with the greatest exposure. The 95th percentile level means that 95% of the population has concentrations below that level. Public health officials use such reference values to determine whether groups of people are experiencing an exposure that is unusual compared with an exposure experienced by the rest of the population. For more information, see the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To calculate whether the differences between 95th percentiles for two different time points is statistically significant, we used a different statistical methodology than that used by the National Center for Environmental Health, which publishes the National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals from where our data are derived. Our estimates may differ slightly from those in the original report due to differences in statistical procedures used. [Methodology]

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

The Cancer Trends Progress Report uses NHANES data through 2017-2018. The 2019-2020 cycle was not completed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available at NHANES Questionnaires, Datasets, and Related Documentation.

There are no Healthy People 2030 targets regarding blood levels of cadmium.

Healthy People 2030 is a set of goals set forth by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Chemical Exposures