Nickel is a silver-white metal with a natural hardness
that makes it useful in strengthening other metals, such as iron,
copper, chromium, and zinc. These mixtures of metals are called
alloys. Nickel alloys are used to make stainless steel, batteries,
valves, heat exchangers, coins and jewelry. Nickel salts are used
in plating. Other nickel compounds are used as catalysts that speed
up the rate of chemical reactions in certain industrial processes.
Workers can come into contact with nickel in a variety of ways.
Nickel dusts, fumes, powders, and solutions may cause respiratory
(inhalation) and/or skin problems. When you breathe nickel dust,
larger particles tend to stay in the nose, while smaller particles
enter the lungs. The particles in the lungs may enter the bloodstream.
Some nickel particles may leave your body with mucus that you spit
out or swallow. Nickel that comes into contact with your skin can
also enter the bloodstream, where it travels mainly to the kidneys.
Nickel from the bloodstream can leave the body through urine.
Exposure to nickel may affect your health in a number of ways,
depending on a several factors: the route by which it entered your
body; how much nickel you came into contact with; and the duration
of the contact. Health effects may include skin allergies, harm
to the blood and kidneys, chronic bronchitis, and reduced lung
function. Additionally, nickel is known to cause cancer of the
lung and nasal sinus in humans.
An examination by a physician trained to recognize signs of exposure
to nickel could help identify some of the health effects of such
an exposure. The physician can then advise you on how to reduce
your health risks and refer you for additional testing if necessary.