About This Guide

Investigation into the toxicological effects of nickel salts on animals was first reported in 1826. Since that time, numerous reports and papers have been generated on the human health and environmental effects of nickel. The reported effects of nickel and its compounds on humans are wide ranging, comprising effects that are both beneficial (the probable essentiality of nickel in humans) as well as harmful (skin allergy and, in certain circumstances, respiratory cancer). Although nickel has been studied extensively, there is still much to be learned about this ubiquitous metal. Given the importance of nickel to industrialized societies, a guide to evaluating workplace exposures has long been needed. The first edition of such a guide was prepared in 1993 by the Nickel Producers Environmental Research Association (NiPERA) in collaboration with the Nickel Development Institute (now the Nickel Institute). Additional assistance for the first edition was provided by the Radian Corporation. The second edition of the Guide was published in 1997. Subsequent to that printed edition, the Guide was published online and was subject to revisions in 2002 and 2004. The current version of this Guide is the third printed version and reflects the evolving nature of the knowledge about the health concerns associated with working with nickel and its compounds.

This Guide has been written for those individuals who are responsible for the health maintenance of workers exposed to nickel, its compounds, and alloys. As such, it is directed to a variety of individuals including operational managers, business managers, industrial hygienists, occupational health nurses, physicians, joint occupational health and safety committees, and other health professionals. Its purpose is not only to educate the reader about the potential hazards associated with exposure to various forms of nickel but also to instruct the reader in the safe handling of nickel-containing substances in the workplace. Like all scientific documents, the information contained within this Guide constitutes a “snapshot” and is subject to change as knowledge is gained about nickel. Further up-dates are planned.

Certain conventions have been followed in preparing this Guide. Since it mainly addresses the health effects associated with occupational exposure to nickel and nickel-containing substances, evaluations are based predominantly on epidemiological and clinical studies. Most evaluations are qualitative and reflect the overall weight-ofevidence reported from studies of nickel workers. Discussions of the health effects related to working with nickel compounds focus on specific forms of nickel. Because they are not present in most work environments, organic nickel compounds, with the exception of a brief discussion on the acute toxicity of nickel carbonyl, are not discussed within this Guide. Finally, unless noted otherwise, statements regarding the “solubility” of nickel compounds are made with respect to their solubility in biological fluids as opposed to water.

The Guide has been organized into a summary of the Guide followed by sections on production, sources of exposure, pharmacokinetics, toxicology, health surveillance, exposure levels and air monitoring, control measures, and hazard communication. Additional instructional materials are provided in appendices.