As part of the Superfund amendments of 1986, Congress told ATSDR (the
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is part of the
U.S. Public Health Service) to produce a series of studies of the 100
toxic chemicals found most often at Superfund sites. Between them,
ATSDR and EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) came up with a
list of 100 chemicals, which they published in the FEDERAL REGISTER
April 17, 1987 (pgs. 1286612874) [see RHWN #27].
Now the first batch of Toxicological Profiles on these chemicals has
been published. If you are engaged in a fight that involves common
toxic chemicals, you may find useful ammunition here. These reports are
intended for ordinary people. They do use some scientific jargon, but
if you keep a dictionary handy, you will be able to read them from
cover to cover. Let's look at the report on the toxic metal, cadmium,
to see what all the reports in this series contain (they all have
identical section titles).
1) Public health statement on cadmium (6 pgs.). This is a quick summary
of information about the toxic metal, cadmium, in the form of questions
and answers. Here we learn, for example, that "The largest source of
cadmium release to the general environment is the burning of fossil
fuels [coal, oil, etc.] or the incineration of municipal waste
materials." (pg. 1) And: "Cadmium is not known to have any beneficial
effects, but can cause a number of adverse health effects." (pg. 2)
And: "Studies in humans also suggest that long-term inhalation of
cadmium can result in increased risk of lung cancer." And: "Other
tissues reported to be injured by cadmium exposure in animals or humans
include the liver, the testes, the immune system, the nervous system
and the blood."
From this, you can see that even the first few pages of the document
tell you something useful: cadmium in the environment gives you no
benefits; it offers you the possibility of many unhappy consequences if
you are exposed to it; and the major sources of exposure are coal
burning and trash burning.
2) Health effects summary (22 pgs.). Here we get into more detail about
the health effects of cadmium on humans. Unfortunately, this section
seems to have been written for doctors; it uses terms like "parenteral
administration" and the glossary at the back does not define
"parenteral," which usually means "by needle injection under the skin
or into the muscle." (You'll need a medical dictionary.)
This section has one particularly valuable part: a graph demonstrating
the adequacy (or inadequacy) of the information that scientists have
gathered about the toxicity of cadmium. There is one graph for "animal
data" (meaning laboratory animals, not wildlife) and "human data."
There are three measures of the adequacy of the information available:
no information, some information, and adequate information. There are
five big categories of information: lethality (the ability of cadmium
to kill quickly); systemic poisoning (meaning, poisoning of one or more
of the body's systems, such as liver, kidneys, etc.); developmental
toxicity (cadmium's ability to interfere with growth of young people or
animals); reproductivity toxicity (ability to interfere with
conception, growth of the fetus, or birth); and carcinogenicity
(ability to cause cancer). The category "systemic toxicity" is
subdivided into three categories: acute [high-dose for a short time],
intermediate, and chronic [low dose for a long time].
It is interesting to note that, for humans exposed to cadmium, there is
"sufficient information" in only two of the seven categories: lethality
and acute systemic toxicity. For three other categories (intermediate
and chronic systemic toxicity, and carcinogenicity), there is "some
information," but for developmental toxicity and reproductive toxicity
there is "no information." So someone who exposes a pregnant woman to
cadmium (via an incinerator, for example) is subjecting her to a crap
shoot--they can't know what the effects might be because there is no
3) Chemical and physical information (3 pgs.). As the name implies,
this is standard information on the melting point, density (weight of a
cubic centimeter [cc] of the stuff; one cc of water weighs 1 gram),
color, and so forth, of the various forms that cadmium can take
(cadmium oxide, cadmium nitrate, etc.)
4) Toxicological data (22 pgs.). This is a rundown on the various
bodily systems that are affected by cadmium (skeleton, brain, kidney,
etc.) and what is known about the mechanisms by which cadmium
interferes with your bodily functions.
5) Manufacture, import, use, and disposal (2 pgs.). This describes the
commercial sources and uses of cadmium.
6) Environmental fate (3 pgs.). This tells you how cadmium moves
through the environment once it gets loose. It also describes where
cadmium gets loose from (combustion of coal and oil release 100 tons
per year; municipal solid waste combustion releases 90 tons per year
but "the number of municipal solid waste incineration units is expected
to triple in the next ten years." (pg. 59) And, we are told, "Cadmium
is strongly accumulated by all organisms, both through food and water.
Cadmium accumulates in freshwater and marine organisms at
concentrations hundreds to thousands of times higher than it is in
water." (This is why clams and oysters often contain high levels of
7) Potential for human exposure (4 pgs.). This brief discussion just
scratches the surface, but does say that people particularly likely to
be affected by cadmium include those with kidney disease, genetic
susceptibility (sensitivity they were born with), inadequate diet and
extreme youth (babies are more prone to absorb cadmium from the stomach
than are adults).
8) Analytical methods (4 pgs.). This discusses proper laboratory
methods for measuring cadmium.
9) Regulatory and advisory status (8 pgs.). This tells what regulations
and advisory warning have been published for cadmium. This gives you
something to compare against when someone discovers cadmium in your
water supply or your town's air supply.
10) References and bibliography (24 pgs.).
11) Glossary (2 pgs.).
These are useful reports despite their failure to consider anything
except human beings. They are also a little too technical in vocabulary
to suit us, but if you work at it, you can understand everything they
contain. Unfortunately, they are not cheap. For example, the
TOXICOLOGICAL PROFILE FOR CADMIUM costs $21.95 plus $3.00 shipping from
National Technical Information Service (NTIS), 5285 Port Royal Rd.,
Springfield, VA 22161; phone (703) 487-4650; request NTIS item number
Other reports issued in this Toxicological Profile series so far
include: 2,3,7,8-TETRACHLORODIBENZO-P-DIOXIN [PB89-214522; $21.95];
SELECTED PCBS (POLYCHLORINATED BIPHENYLS) (AROCHLOR-1260, -1254, 1248,
-1242, -1232, -1221 AND -1016) [PB89225403; $21.95]; VINYL CHLORIDE
[PB90-103870; $21.95]; CHLOROFORM [PB89-160360; $21.95]; NICKEL [PB-
160378; $21.95]; BERYLLIUM [PB89-148233; $15.95]; N-
NITROSODIPHENYLAMINE [PB89-154090; $15.95]; ARSENIC [PB89185706;
$21.95]; METHYLENE CHLORIDE [PB89-194468; $21.95]; DI (2-ETHYLHEXYL)
PHTHALATE [PB89-194484; $21.95]; HEPTACHLOR/HEPTACHLOR EPOXIDE
[PB89194492; $21.95]. BENZENE [PB89-209464; $21.95].
New reports are appearing all the time; to keep abreast you must write
asking to be put on the mailing list to receive the monthly FACT SHEET
from the office with responsibility for this series of Toxicological
Profiles: c/o Ed Skowronski, Division of Toxicology, ATSDR, 1600
Clifton Road -Mail Stop E-29, Atlanta, GA 30333; phone (404) 639-0730.
Mr. Skowronski's office publishes drafts of these reports, which are
free; write asking for the ones that are available; they won't take
your request over the phone.
Descriptor terms: superfund; water supply; toxicity; atsdr; cadmium;
heavy metals; incineration; health effects; liver disease; nervous
system; blood; reproductive hazards; systemic toxicity; developmental