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Cadmium Poisoning

Profits Can Kill

(February 1979)

From Militant, No. 441, 2 February 1979, p. 7.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Over 1,000 villagers in Shipham, Somerset, are said to be at risk due to abnormally high concentrations of cadmium in the soil.

This has again catapulted the controversial issue of toxic heavy metal contaminants into national prominence.

Coinciding with the announcement that the incidence of cancer has risen dramatically and is industrially related; the news has provoked a public outcry and a call for much more stringent safety monitoring techniques.

The toxic heavy metals, lead, mercury, and cadmium, constitute one of the most formidable groups of environmental pollutants. The dangers from mercury and cadmium have already been tragically underlined by the poisoning of entire communities.

The most recent studies of lead, by doctors at the University of Glasgow’s medical department found that it caused mental retardation in newly born infants.


A great deal of evidence already exists associating lead with poor eyesight, sluggish movement and difficulty in reasoning amongst children.

A survey of children living near a lead smelter in El Paso found that eleven out of twenty of the children were educationally subnormal.

Minamata disease, attributed to mercury poisoning, was first observed when people were seen walking in a disorientated manner, some suffering from convulsions, and all with grotesquely dilated pupils and paralysis of the limbs.

By 1956, seventy-eight people were seriously ill, many with appalling physical deformities.

The cause was traced to an effluent from the Chisso factory containing methyl mercuric chloride which flowed into the sea and accumulated in fish eaten by the villagers.

Another disease, attributed to cadmium, occurred in northern Japan. The area is rich in cadmium and zinc, and zinc smelting is the main industry.

The disease was first described by Japanese orthopaedic surgeons:

“The disease takes a long course of increasing painfulness which, beginning with simple symptoms such as lumbago, ends with total and agonised immobility as the result of skeletal collapse.”

The cadmium is absorbed into the bones, leading to the eventual breakdown of the skeleton. When a Birmingham platemaker, Mr Leslie Day, died from the disease, the inquest was told that Mr Day shrank seven inches, lost his sense of smell and became disfigured.

Cadmium has the unique property of accumulating in the kidneys. Apart from causing kidney damage, it can combine in enzymes in the body to form highly toxic complexes which have cancer-inducing properties.

A good deal of evidence (from Sweden and the USA) exists linking it with heart disease and high blood pressure. In fact, exposure to the smallest concentration of cadmium can produce any one of these afflictions.

The World Health Organisation, has attempted to impose standards in food and drink. Recognising that contamination will increase in future, it has urged governments to adopt a rational policy of waste disposal.

Workers should take note of the current situation and be prepared to protest to the Minister of the Environment on behalf of the residents of Shipham. The Department of Health claim that it would take many decades of exposure to the toxic metal even at the levels reported – (100 times the level recommended by scientists) – to cause illness.

The question of pollution is of immediate concern because capitalism is only motivated by one thing – profits.

They are prepared to destroy and disfigure our environment, kill and maim whole sections of the population to achieve their objectives, as events have shown.

A planned socialist society controlling the means of production, distribution and disposal of toxic materials will ensure adequate safety precautions for the workforce and the population as a whole.

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Last updated: 28 August 2016