Cadmium Flows Caused by the Worldwide Production of Primary Zinc Metal

Material flows of the economic cycle can contain toxic substances, which enter the economy as impurities in raw materials or are intentionally added as minor or even main constituents during the manufacture of industrial or consumer goods. Cadmium, predominantly associated with zinc minerals, is a by‐product of the primary zinc production. Cadmium is generated when zinc is extracted from zinc ores and concentrates, an intermediate product resulting from flotation processing after the zinc ore has been mined and milled. Information on the amount of cadmium generated from zinc extraction is rarely published. In this article, we assess generation and fate of cadmium accumulating worldwide in the production of primary zinc from ores and concentrates. Model calculations for the beginning of the 21st century show that annually about 30,000 tonnes of cadmium were generated, but only approximately 16,000 tonnes were converted to primary cadmium metal, key material for the production of other cadmium compounds (e.g., cadmium oxide), and cadmium‐containing goods (e.g., nickel−cadmium batteries). Hence, about 14,000 tonnes of cadmium must have been transferred somewhere else. The fate of about 5,500 tonnes can be plausibly explained, but it is difficult to determine what happens to the rest.

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