Consumer Factsheet on: NICKEL

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 Osmosis.

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):

	       Water             Land 
	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

	Major Industries*

	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.

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