Nickel-101

Written by Dr Klaus L.E. Kaiser

The media are abuzz with news about another villain—the element nickel, with the chemical symbol “Ni.” For example, as USA Today reports, the maker of a wristband—made of plastic material—with a small tech device made of surgical steel was forced to institute a recall with full refund to wearers of such items after a few people complained about skin irritations. nickel

Nobody seems to have looked at the wrist-band, everyone just assumes it must be the nickel content of the actual device.

Let me say it straight out: This is total nonsense!

Elemental Nickel

Elemental nickel is a silvery shiny metal similar to chromium in its appearance and prior to the use chromium for the coating of car bumpers (for us oldy types) many implements were coated with nickel metal instead. For example, we still use a lead-glass (oh my gosh!) salt shaker with a screw-top lid coated with a layer of shiny nickel.

Though this salt shaker has been in regular use for about 80 years, as far as I know, neither I nor my parents suffered from any nickel poisoning or allergic reaction because of it. It also remains as shiny as it ever was. The trick for that is simply to keep it dry.

With moisture (such as from skin perspiration) elemental nickel will slowly oxidize, noticeable by a green color and the resulting nickel-oxides can indeed cause skin irritation. For that reason, elemental nickel is no longer used for such purposes and that is good.

So, what about nickel in stainless steel appliances and gadgets? Well, that is a different story entirely.

Stainless Steel

There are many types and grades of “stainless steel” and some are better than others. To a large extent, their resistance to oxidation depends on the alloy’s content of nickel in its composition. As a rule of thumb, the higher the nickel content, the more resistant to corrosion is the steel. If you look at the kitchen of just about any eatery in North America or Europe, you will find that much of the surface material is made from stainless steel, nearly all containing between 0.5 and 3% nickel. If that were a problem, we all would be suffering from nickel-related afflictions—but we don’t. You may even own a dishwasher or cutlery made from stainless steel yourself. Are you in danger of getting allergies or other problems from that? Not a chance!

The fact is that in alloys of that nature, nickel is bound so strongly that it simply cannot become a health problem—ever. For food processing, nearly all equipment is made from high quality stainless steel containers, etc. The production processes for the manufacture of all kinds of drugs, medicines, vaccines and so forth rely heavily on stainless steel implements.

When it comes to stainless steel items that are in steady contact with your skin or (heaven forbid ‚ò∫ ) implants of any sort, so-called “surgical quality” stainless steel is the material of choice. The likelihood that hell freezes over is greater than that of you ever getting any problems from the use of such items due to their nickel content.

The Upshot

Any problems with wearing anything made from surgical steel (like wrist-bands, earrings, jewellery, etc.) would be from the other materials in contact with your body and not from the nickel in the steel.

And, by the way, the old (100% Ni) nickel in your pocket, weighing about 5.0 g (0.175 oz.) is now worth nearly 10 cents in metal value.

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser Most recent columns

Dr. Klaus L.E. Kaiser is author of CONVENIENT MYTHS, the green revolution – perceptions, politics, and facts
convenientmyths.com

 

Dr. Kaiser can be reached at:mail@convenientmyths.com

 

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Comments (1)

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    AE

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    I can’t say that the device mentioned caused reactions due to Nickel. Is quite possible that that is an overreaction.
    But Nickel clearly can cause allergic reactions. So I think your response is overstated.
    If the plastic band, or other part, instead of Ni, was the cause of significant reactions, wouldn’t recalling the product still be the right response.

    By the way, the nickels in our pockets have been 75% copper for a very long time. I cannot find a reference to them ever being 100% Ni, as you state.

    ae

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