Persistent neurotoxicity from a battery fire: is cadmium the culprit?

South Med J. 1996 Jul;89(7):693-8. doi: 10.1097/00007611-199607000-00009.


Two train conductors had chest tightness, painful breathing, muscle cramps, and nausea after fighting a fire in a battery box under a passenger coach. Shortly thereafter, they became anosmic and had excessive fatigue, persistent headaches, sleep disturbances, irritability, unstable moods, and hypertension. Urinary cadmium and nickel levels were elevated. Neurobehavioral testing showed, in comparison to referents, prolonged reaction times, abnormal balance, prolonged blink reflex latency, severely constricted visual fields, and decreased vibration sense. Test scores showed that immediate verbal and visual recall were normal but delayed recall was reduced. Scores on overlearned information were normal. Tests measuring dexterity, coordination, decision making, and peripheral sensation and discrimination revealed abnormalities. Repeat testing 6 and 12 months after exposure showed persistent abnormalities. Cadmium and vinyl chloride are the most plausible causes of the neurotoxicity, but fumes from the fire may have contained other neurotoxic chemicals.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Occupational*
  • Adult
  • Cadmium / urine
  • Cadmium Poisoning / etiology*
  • Fires*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Nervous System Diseases / etiology*
  • Nickel / poisoning
  • Nickel / urine
  • Occupational Exposure


  • Cadmium
  • Nickel