Cadmium induced renal tubular effects were examined in 65 female workers in a factory manufacturing nickel cadmium batteries. Urinary beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2m), urinary N-acetyl-D-glucosaminidase activity (NAG), and serum creatinine and serum urea concentrations were used to assess the renal effects. Of the four measures, only urinary NAG and urinary beta 2m showed a strong positive correlation with blood cadmium concentrations (r = 0.49 and 0.43 respectively); NAG showed a weaker correlation with urinary cadmium concentrations (r = 0.35). Urinary beta 2m has weak correlation with urinary cadmium (r = 0.04). Only urinary NAG showed a significant deterioration in renal function among the exposed group. NAG detects the largest proportion of abnormalities among the exposed group. Abnormal urinary beta 2m is detected in only 15.4% of the workers, half of whom have blood cadmium above 10 micrograms/l. The proportion of abnormalities detected by urinary NAG differs significantly from the proportion of abnormalities detected by urinary beta 2m (p less than 0.01). The age adjusted mean urinary NAG excretion showed a significant rise with urinary cadmium of above 3 micrograms/g creatinine. Urinary beta 2m failed to show any significant rise. With blood cadmium concentrations, the age adjusted mean urinary NAG excretion showed a rise from 1 microgram/l of blood cadmium followed by a plateau between blood cadmium concentrations of 3-10 micrograms/l. No significant rise in mean urinary excretion in beta 2m was seen until blood cadmium concentrations exceeded 10 micrograms/l.
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