Evidence accumulates for cadmium cancer link

Belgian researchers have shown a definite link between exposure to industrial pollutant cadmium and the risk of contracting lung cancer, arguing that living in a heavily contaminated area is almost as dangerous as smoking.

Since 1985 scientists have been following a random sample of almost 1,000 people from the North East of Belgium.

Half lived close to three zinc smelters which had led to high levels of cadmium contamination in the surrounding area.

The other half were taken from an area where levels of the heavy metal were nearer the national average.

The team from the University of Leuven has published its finding in medical journal The Lancet.

Cadmium levels in the participants’ urine, as well as in soil from their gardens, have been regularly measured and those living near the industrial site were found to be exposed to almost twice the levels of their peers outside the locality.

Over the course of the study, 19 of the subjects contracted lung cancer, of which 15 lived in the area of high exposure.

According to the scientists’ analysis this means that the increased lung cancer risk for those living near the smelters is on a par with a heavy smoker.

Cadmium accumulates in the body over the years and is a by-product of zinc and lead smelting, as well as being used in its own right in a number of industrial processes.

“Historical pollution from non-ferrous smelters continues to present a serious health hazard,” said Dr Jan Staessen, lead author of the study.

“This necessitates targeted preventive measures.”

By Sam Bond

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