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The threshold for a toxic effect from cadmium is close to its background levels. In experimental studies, chronic low-dose exposure does not necessarily increase body burden and causes effects associated with other stressors; therefore, low-dose effects from environmental sources are hard to establish using traditional approaches. The effects of ambient cadmium have increased with the precipitous drop in lead in the atmosphere. They are manifested by increased stress responses. In a community exposed to cadmium fumes from waste incineration, one can infer cadmium effects in such observed environmental stresses as increased seeding in trees, tree injuries, and learning and behavioral problems in children.
Biochemical effects of free cadmium, rather than the levels of cadmium burden or accumulation, need to be assessed in multiple biological systems, especially trees and humans. Environmentally bioavailable cadmium can be detected more accurately by assaying multiple metals in hair, leaves, lichens, and house dust. The hypothesis that cadmium is released with stress and/or mediates the stress response should be directly tested through carefully designed scientific studies.
cadmium, lead, health effects, waste incineration, plant stress
M.D. in private practice, Columbus, OH