Day 3: Cadmium

Cadmium is a blueish-white metal that typically contaminates water as the result of industrial activities and improper disposal of waste.  When consumed in drinking water, high concentrations of cadmium can cause nausea, renal failure, convulsions and shock, and prolonged exposure can damage the kidney, liver and lead to bone and blood damage.

Cadmium was discovered in 1894, and in the form of cadmium-sulphide quickly became a key ingredient in pigments that made it possible to synthesize vibrant colors.  The visual styles of many artistic movements (including impressionism & fauvism) have been tied directly to the new colors cadmium made possible on the canvas.  However, cadmium’s primary use was in industrial applications where its resistance to corrosion made it an ideal substance for coating machinery, transportation equipment and baking enamels.  Although many of these uses have since been outlawed due to its toxicity, it continues to be used in artists pigments, and in nickel-cadmium batteries.

Further Reading:
Aldersey-Williams, Hugh. Periodic Tales: A Cultural History of the Elements. Viking: London, 2011.

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