What is Nickel and how is it used?
Nickel is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other elements.
The greatest use of nickel is in making stainless steel and other alloys.
Why is Nickel being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to
determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or may cause
health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on possible health
risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level Goals.
The MCLG for nickel has been set at 0.1 parts per million (ppm) because EPA
believes this level of protection would not cause any of the potential health
problems described below.
Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a Maximum
Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as possible,
considering the ability of public water systems to detect and remove
contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.
The MCL has been set at 0.1 ppm because EPA believes, given present technology
and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably
be required to remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.
These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring these
standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. All
public water supplies must abide by these regulations.
What are the health effects?
Short-term: Nickel is not known to cause any health problems when people are
exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time.
Long-term: Nickel has the potential to cause the following effects from a
lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: decreased body weight; heart and
liver damage; skin irritation.
How much Nickel is produced and released to the environment?
Production of nickel was 84.6 million lbs. in 1986. Nickel compounds can be
made as a by-product during various industrial processes that use nickel
catalysts, such as coal gasification, petroleum refining, and hydrogenation of
fats and oils. They have also been identified in residual fuel oil and in
atmospheric emissions from nickel refineries.
From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory nickel releases
to land and water totaled nearly 27 million lbs. These releases were primarily
from nickel smelting/refining and steelworks industries. The largest releases
occurred in Oregon and Arkansas. The largest direct releases to water occurred
in Maryland and Georgia.
What happens to Nickel when it is released to the environment?
Nickel is one of the most mobile of the heavy metals when released to water,
particularly in polluted waters, where organic material will keep nickel
soluble. Though nickel does accumulate in aquatic life, it does not become
magnified along food chains. Nickel released to soil may leach into ground
water or be washed into surface water.
How will Nickel be detected in and removed from my drinking water?
The regulation for nickel became effective in 1994. Between 1993 and 1995, EPA
required your water supplier to collect water samples once and analyze them to
find out if nickel is present above 0.1 ppm. If it is present above this
level, the system must continue to monitor this contaminant every 3 months.
If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the MCL, your water
supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of nickel so that it is
consistently below that level. The following treatment methods have been
approved by EPA for removing nickel: Ion Exchange, Lime Softening, Reverse
How will I know if Nickel is in my drinking water?
If the levels of nickel exceed the MCL, the system must notify the public via
newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional actions, such as providing
alternative drinking water supplies, may be required to prevent serious risks
to public health.
Drinking Water Standards:
MCLG: 0.1 ppm
MCL: 0.1 ppm
Nickel Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):
TOTALS 709,236 26,079,419
Top Ten States *
OR 459 6,256,532
AR 4,250 5,622,900
ID 1,000 2,200,250
IN 28,050 2,098,196
PA 19,680 2,052,736
AZ 767 984,817
TX 0 777,400
MD 77,200 666,637
CA 6,687 285,731
GA 61,100 193,111
Primary nonferrous meta 16,874 12,053,688
Blast furnaces + steel 304,891 6,784,227
Ind inorganic chems 22,689 2,519,468
Ind organic chems 109,141 1,105,934
Petroleum refining 186,499 949,411
Primary copper 1,272 996,817
Iron+steel foundries 500 409,000
Gray iron foundries 3,326 334,524
Inorganic pigments 62,394 193,111
* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases
greater than a certain amount - usually 1000 to 10,000 lbs.