CADMIUM IN JEWELLERY: SERIOUS THREAT TO YOUR HEALTH

What is Cadmium?

Cadmium is bluish-white, soft metal. Although, it is a natural element in the Earth’s crust, its concentration is extremely low. According to Wikipedia, “the average concentration of cadmium in Earth’s crust is between 0.1 and 0.5 parts per million (ppm)”. Usually, cadmium is not present in the environment as a pure metal. It is primarily found in zinc-containing ores but it may also be found in lead and copper ores.

Why Cadmium is Dangerous?

Cadmium is a toxic heavy metal. It means that it is not used by biological systems. It is toxic to humans,animals, plants, and micro-organisms.

“Cadmium is known to accumulate in the kidneys and some scientists believe that damage to kidney tissue may lead to kidney disease, high blood pressure and heart disease. Calcium related kidney damage leads to calcium deficiencies in the rest of the body, particularly in the skeleton. As the “Itai-Itai” syndrome made clear, in extreme cases, cadmium can contribute to aching bones and joints, progressing to extreme deformities and brittleness of bones. Some humans with high blood pressure have been found to have abnormally high amounts of cadmium in their urine and animals given cadmium in food or water developed kidney and liver disease, high blood pressure, iron-poor blood and nerve or brain damage.”

“Excessive cadmium exposure may weaken the body’s immune system and it is also believed to be linked to lung cancer. Some studies suggest it causes prostate enlargement. Some scientists suspect that cadmium may be a reproductive toxin. Some studies have found that animals exposed to high levels of cadmium had a higher incidence of premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth and spontaneous abortion. Animal studies also suggest that cadmium exposure is linked to behavioral problems and learning disabilities.”

So, to sum up, cadmium can cause various health effects, including stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhea, high blood pressure, kidney, lung and heart diseases, calcium deficiency, bone deformities and fracture, aching bones and joints, brain damage, psychological disorders, damage to reproductive systems and possibly even infertility, cancer, damage to central nervous system, immune system, and possibly DNA.

Cadmium: Skin contact

The vast majority of literature on cadmium intoxication speaks about risks to human health when exposure to cadmium is either by ingestion (of food or water containing cadmium) or by inhalation. However, risks related to cadmium exposure through the skin (dermal exposure) should not be underestimated.

Little research has been done on dermal absorption of cadmium. In 1991, Wester et al. experimented on the resorption from cadmium-contaminated soil and water solutions by human cadaver skin in a diffusion cell-model. They could demonstrate a penetration of 8.8 % (soil) and 12.7% (water) of the applied cadmium dose into the skin.

This is where we come to jewellery, as most of the jewellery (except for brooches, probably) is in direct contact with our skin, and oftentimes, such contact is round-the-clock. The risk increases if you touch your cadmium-containing jewellery and then eat something with your unwashed hands.

Cadmium in Silver

Cadmium is widely used in silver jewellery made in India.

Be especially cautious if you have bought or are about to buy a piece of silver jewellery with some kind of druzy (druse) or with an uncut semi-precious stone. According to my experience, this type of jewellery is manufactured mostly in India and tends to contain cadmium.

Another piece of advice: if your silver jewellery item looks somewhat uncommon – silver is not bright and shiny, there are some yellowish or dull spots on it that do not look like normal patina (like in the photo below), it would be a very good idea to take it to a lab and get it tested for the presence of cadmium.

history of silver