Cadmium in drinking water

Can cadmium present in tap water pose a threat to our health? 

Let’s explore the potential risks and concerns associated with cadmium exposure in our daily lives. We’ll take a closer look at unexpected sources of cadmium, innovations in cadmium-free technology, the link between cadmium and mental health, and the impact of cadmium on ecosystems and biodiversity. It’s essential to stay informed and aware of potential health hazards. We’re here to help you navigate this important topic.

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What is cadmium?

Cadmium is a soft metal that rarely occurs in nature. The pure element is insoluble in water, but some cadmium compounds are water-soluble. The toxicityCadmium and its compounds are toxic. The toxicity is mainly the reason why its economic importance continues to decline.

Cadmium is a by-product of metallurgy. Its industrial usability is still incredibly diverse. In everyday life, one encounters cadmium-containing compounds, for example, nickel-cadmium batteries, coloured ceramic and enamel glazes, as a component of solar cells and PVC or in costume jewellery. Zinc sheets of gutters and rain pipes also contain heavy metal.

Another area of use is industrial agriculture. The intensive use of artificial fertilisers leads to an increased cadmium concentration in the soil. 

How does cadmium get into drinking water? 

The heavy metal can leach out of galvanised metal pipes or fittings and thus get directly into drinking water. Fertilisation and pesticide application in agriculture contaminate farmland – and thus groundwater. In addition to domestic plumbing, rain gutters and downpipes made of sheet metal also pose a problem. Here, cadmium can also leak out of the zinc and seep into the water-bearing strata via unsealed surfaces.

How does cadmium affect the human body?

The harmful properties of cadmium and its compounds have been scientifically researched and proven in recent years. The high toxicity is even suspected of being carcinogenic.

Consuming fruit and vegetables from contaminated soils poses a great danger to the organism. The substance is mainly absorbed through food. Mushrooms, shellfish and liver, are among the foods with the highest cadmium levels. Cadmium can also enter the body through drinking water. The pollution caused by cigarette smoke is considered to be particularly serious.

A steady intake of toxic cadmium over decades leads to its accumulation in the body. Since the degradation of harmful substances is prolonged, chronic cadmium poisoning can result. It manifests itself, among other things, in kidney damage, bone loss, damage to the entire digestive tract and the immune system, infertility, genetic mutations and cancer.

Itai-Itai disease is the chronic poisoning with cadmium first described in Japan over 6o years ago. The cause was massive environmental pollution from a mining operation. In addition to lead, copper and zinc, large cadmium concentrations also entered a nearby river. Its water was used as washing and drinking water to irrigate the fields. It was also heavily fished. Those who were ill showed kidney damage and deformation of bone structures because the cadmium in the body blocked the absorption of calcium from food.

How can Heavy Metals enter the groundwater?
How can Heavy Metals enter the groundwater?

Are there binding regulations to protect against cadmium?

Because of the hazardous properties of cadmium compounds to health, the European Union adopted more comprehensive protective measures in 2011. These are laid down in the European Chemicals Regulation REACH. The use of heavy metal and its alloys in electrical and electronic devices, jewellery, paints and plastics has been banned since then.

In 2009, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set the limit for weekly cadmium intake at two and a half micrograms per kilogram of body weight.

Cadmium in drinking water 

In recent years, the cadmium limits in water have been adjusted further and further downwards by the World Health Organisation. The WHO recommends a maximum cadmium concentration of 0.003 mg/L in its current drinking water standard. The limit value for cadmium in the Drinking Water Ordinance for England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 0.005 mg/L. The limit for Scotland is 0.003 mg/L.

Who is responsible for Cadmium in drinking water? 

The values specified in the Drinking Water Ordinance are chemical parameters whose concentration can increase in the distribution network, especially in a domestic installation. The guide values apply exclusively to the supply pipes of the municipal waterworks. From the property boundary onwards, the homeowner is responsible for complying with them. Especially in older buildings or in rural areas, galvanised metal pipes harbour potential dangers.

Well, owners should be attentive because groundwater contaminated by fertilisers is a weak point. Well-system owners are responsible for compliance with drinking water guideline values. However, health authorities and environmental agencies strongly recommend that private well operators have their water regularly tested for various parameters such as bacteria, heavy metals, nitrates and other pollutants to ensure that it is safe for human consumption.

How to test for Cadmium levels in tap water?

Is your drinking water contaminated with cadmium? Do other metal contents such as lead, iron or copper exceed the limit values? A drinking water test can tell you. A water test is easy to take and is then sent to an accredited laboratory. After a short time, you will receive a detailed breakdown of the quality of your water. Water contaminated by heavy metals can no longer be used as food. It can be treated with the help of special filters and chemical processes.

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