Nickel is a chemical element with the chemical symbol Ni and atomic number 28. It is a silvery-white lustrous metal with a slight golden tinge. Nickel belongs to the transition metals and is hard and ductile. [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][1] Nickel is a fairly good conductor of heat and electricity. In its familiar compounds nickel is bivalent, although it assumes other valences. It also forms a number of complex compounds. Most nickel compounds are blue or green. Nickel dissolves slowly in dilute acids but, like iron, becomes passive when treated with nitric acid. Finely divided nickel adsorbs hydrogen. [2]


Uses [2]


The major use of nickel is in the preparation of alloys. Nickel alloys are characterised by strength, ductility, and resistance to corrosion and heat. About 65 % of the nickel consumed in the Western World is used to make stainless steel, whose composition can vary but is typically iron with around 18% chromium and 8% nickel. 12% of all the nickel consumed goes into super alloys. The remaining 23% of consumption is divided between alloy steels, rechargeable batteries, catalysts and other chemicals, coinage, foundry products, and plating. Nickel is easy to work and can be drawn into wire. It resists corrosion even at high temperatures and for this reason it is used in gas turbines and rocket engines. Monel is an alloy of nickel and copper (e.g. 70% nickel, 30% copper with traces of iron, manganese and silicon), which is not only hard but can resist corrosion by seawater, so that it is ideal for propeller shaft in boats and desalination plants.


Sources & Routes of Exposure [3,4]


Sources of Exposure


Nickel is a natural element of the earth’s crust; therefore, small amounts are found in food, water, soil, and air. Food is the major source of nickel exposure, with an average intake for adults estimated to be approximately 100 to 300 micrograms per day (µg/d). In addition, individuals may be exposed to nickel in occupations involved in its production, processing, and use, or through contact with everyday items such as nickel-containing jewellery and stainless steel cooking and eating utensils, and by smoking tobacco. Nickel is found in ambient air at very low levels as a result of releases from oil and coal combustion, nickel metal refining, sewage sludge incineration, manufacturing facilities, and other sources. Given its high instability, nickel carbonyl exposure is extremely rare.


Routes of Exposure


The major route of exposure to nickel is via the consumption of food or water containing the metal. In addition, exposure can occur through skin contact with soil, bath or shower water, or metals containing nickel, as well as by handling coins or touching jewellery-containing nickel. Exposure may also occur by inhaling air or smoking tobacco containing nickel. Higher exposure may occur if you work in industries that process or use nickel.


Health Effects [3]


Acute Effects


Exposure to extremely high level of nickel by inhalation resulted in severe damage to the lungs and kidneys. Gastrointestinal distress (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea) and neurological effects were reported in workers who drank water on one shift that was contaminated with nickel as nickel sulphate and nickel chloride. Pulmonary fibrosis and renal oedema were reported in humans and animals following acute (short-term) exposure to nickel carbonyl. Acute animal tests in rats have shown nickel compounds to exhibit acute toxicity values ranging from low to high. The soluble compounds, such as nickel acetate, were the most toxic, and the insoluble forms, such as nickel powder, were the least toxic.


Chronic Effects


Dermatitis is the most common effect in humans from chronic dermal exposure to nickel. Cases of nickel dermatitis have been reported following occupational and non-occupational exposure, with symptoms of eczema (rash, itching) of the fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms. Chronic inhalation exposure to nickel in humans also results in respiratory effects, including a type of asthma specific to nickel, decreased lung function, and bronchitis. Animal studies have reported effect on the lungs and immune system from inhalation exposure to soluble and insoluble nickel compounds (nickel oxide, subsulphide, sulphate heptahydrate). Soluble nickel compounds are more toxic to the respiratory tract than less soluble compounds. EPA has not established a Reference Concentration (RfC) for nickel. The Reference Dose (RfD) for nickel (soluble salts) is 0.02 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day (mg/kg/d) based on decreased body and organ weights in rats.


Reproductive/Developmental Effects


No information is available regarding the reproductive or developmental effects of nickel in humans. Animal studies have reported reproductive and developmental effects, such as a decreased number of live pups per litter, increased pup mortality, and reduction in foetal body weight, and effects to the dam from oral exposure to soluble salts of nickel. Sperm abnormalities and decreased sperm count have been reported in animals exposed to nickel nitrate orally and nickel oxide by inhalation, respectively.


Cancer Risk


Nickel Salts: Nickel sulphate via inhalation and nickel acetate in drinking water were not carcinogenic in either rats or mice. EPA has not evaluated soluble salts of nickel as a class of compounds for potential human carcinogenicity.


Nickel Refinery Dust and Nickel Subsulphide: Human studies have reported an increased risk of lung and nasal cancers among nickel refinery workers exposed to nickel refinery dust. Nickel refinery dust is a mixture of many nickel compounds, with nickel subsulphide being the major constituent. Animal studies have also reported lung tumours from inhalation exposure to nickel refinery dusts and to nickel subsulphide. EPA has classified nickel refinery dust and nickel subsulphide as Group A, human carcinogens.


Nickel Carbonyl: Nickel carbonyl has been reported to produce lung tumours in rats exposed via inhalation. EPA has classified nickel carbonyl as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.


Safety [5]


First Aid Measures


  • Eye Contact: Check for and remove any contact lenses. In case of contact, immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical attention if irritation occurs.
  • Skin Contact: In case of contact, immediately flush skin with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes while removing contaminated clothing and shoes. Cover the irritated skin with an emollient. Wash clothing before reuse. Thoroughly clean shoes before reuse. Get medical attention.
  • Inhalation: If inhaled, remove to fresh air. If not breathing, give artificial respiration. If breathing is difficult, give oxygen. Get medical attention.
  • Ingestion: Do NOT induce vomiting unless directed to do so by medical personnel. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person. If large quantities of this material are swallowed, call a physician immediately. Loosen tight clothing such as a collar, tie, belt or waistband.


Exposure Controls & Personal Protection


Engineering Controls


Use process enclosures, local exhaust ventilation, or other engineering controls to keep airborne levels below recommended exposure limits. If user operations generate dust, fume or mist, use ventilation to keep exposure to airborne contaminants below the exposure limit.


~h3Personal Protective Equipment


  • Safety glasses
  • Lab coat
  • Dust respirator (be sure to use an approved/certified respirator or equivalent)
  • Gloves


Personal Protection in Case of a Large Spill

  • Splash goggles
  • Full suit
  • Dust respirator
  • Boots
  • Gloves
  • A self contained breathing apparatus should be used to avoid inhalation of the product

Note: Suggested protective clothing might not be sufficient; consult a specialist BEFORE handling this product.




United Kingdom [5]


Inhalation Respirable TWA: 0.5 (mg/m3)


United States [6]


Exposure Limit Limit Values* HE Codes Health factors and Target Organs
*These values do not apply to nickel carbonyl.
OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL) – General Industry

See29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1

1 mg/m3


HE2 Nasal, sinus, and lung cancers
HE15 Dermatitis
OSHA PEL – Construction Industry

See29 CFR 1926.55 Appendix A

1 mg/m3


HE2 Nasal, sinus, and lung cancers
HE15 Dermatitis
OSHA PEL – Shipyard Employment

See 29 CFR 1915.1000 Table Z-Shipyards

1 mg/m3


HE2 Nasal, sinus, and lung cancers
HE15 Dermatitis
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Recommended Exposure Limit (REL) 0.015 mg/m3 TWA


HE2 Lung and sinus cancers
HE15 Sensitization dermatitis, allergic skin rash
American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) Threshold Limit Value (TLV) (2001) Elemental: 1.5 mg/m3 TWA


HE10 Pneumoconiosis
HE15 Dermatitis
Insoluble compounds: 0.2 mg/m3


HE2 Nasal and lung cancers
Nickel subsulfide:0.1 mg/m3 TWA


HE2 Nasal and lung cancers
CAL/OSHA PELs Metal: 0.5 mg/m3TWA

Insoluble compounds: 0.1 mg/m3 TWA

HE2 Nasal, sinus, and lung cancer


Australia [7]


Safe Work Australia: Safe Work Australia defines nickel as hazardous and has set various nickel exposure standards, namely 1 milligram/m3 (TWA) for nickel metal, 1 milligram/m3 (TWA) for nickel sulphide roasting (fume & dust) (as Ni), and 0.1 milligram/m3 (TWA) for soluble nickel compounds (as Ni).


Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (NHMRC and ARMCANZ, 1996): Maximum of 0.02 mg/L (i.e. 0.00002 g/L)