Current status of cadmium as an environmental health problem
Cadmium is a toxic metal occurring in the environment naturally and as a pollutant emanating from industrial and agricultural sources. Food is the main source of cadmium intake in the non-smoking population. The bioavailability, retention and toxicity are affected by several factors including nutritional status such as low iron status. Cadmium is efficiently retained in the kidney (half-time 10–30 years) and the concentration is proportional to that in urine (U-Cd). Cadmium is nephrotoxic, initially causing kidney tubular damage. Cadmium can also cause bone damage, either via a direct effect on bone tissue or indirectly as a result of renal dysfunction. After prolonged and/or high exposure the tubular injury may progress to glomerular damage with decreased glomerular filtration rate, and eventually to renal failure. Furthermore, recent data also suggest increased cancer risks and increased mortality in environmentally exposed populations. Dose–response assessment using a variety of early markers of kidney damage has identified U-Cd points of departure for early kidney effects between 0.5 and 3 μg Cd/g creatinine, similar to the points of departure for effects on bone. It can be anticipated that a considerable proportion of the non-smoking adult population has urinary cadmium concentrations of 0.5 μg/g creatinine or higher in non-exposed areas. For smokers this proportion is considerably higher. This implies no margin of safety between the point of departure and the exposure levels in the general population. Therefore, measures should be put in place to reduce exposure to a minimum, and the tolerably daily intake should be set in accordance with recent findings.