Human exposure to nickel

IARC Sci Publ. 1984:(53):469-85.


In order of abundance in the earth's crust, nickel ranks as the 24th element and has been detected in different media in all parts of the biosphere. Thus, humans are constantly exposed to this ubiquitous element, though in variable amounts. The average natural nickel exposure from food in the past has probably been somewhat, but not much, below current levels. Nickel is a useful metal, particularly in various alloys, in batteries and in nickel-plating. Nickel compounds are used especially as catalysts and pigments. In nickel-producing or nickel-using industries, about 0.2% of the work force may be exposed to considerable amounts of airborne nickel. In addition, nickel release, e.g., into cutting oils, and skin contact with nickel-containing or nickel-plated tools and other items may add to an occupational nickel hazard. Occupational exposures may lead to the retention of 100 micrograms of nickel per day. Environmental nickel levels depend particularly on natural sources, pollution from nickel-manufacturing industries and airborne particles from combustion of fossil fuels. Absorption from atmospheric nickel pollution is of minor concern. Vegetables usually contain more nickel than do other food items; high levels have been found in legumes, spinach, lettuce and nuts. Certain products, such as baking powder and cocoa powder, have been found to contain excessive amounts of nickel, perhaps related to nickel leaching during the manufacturing process. Soft drinking-water and acid beverages may dissolve nickel from pipes and containers. Leaching or corrosion processes may contribute significantly to the oral nickel intake, occasionally up to 1 mg/day. Scattered studies indicate a highly variable dietary intake of nickel, but most averages are about 200-300 micrograms/day. In addition, skin contact to a multitude of metal objects may be of significance to the large number of individuals suffering from contact dermatitis and nickel allergy. Finally, nickel alloys are often used in nails and prostheses for orthopaedic surgery, and various sources may contaminate intravenous fluids. Thus, human nickel exposure originates from a variety of sources and is highly variable. Occupational nickel exposure is of major significance, and leaching of nickel may add to dietary intakes and to cutaneous exposures. Preventive efforts should mainly be directed towards adequate control of these exposure sources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Absorption
  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects
  • Beverages
  • Dermatitis, Contact / etiology
  • Dermatitis, Occupational / chemically induced
  • Diet
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Food Contamination
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption
  • Nickel / adverse effects
  • Nickel / metabolism*
  • Skin Absorption
  • Surgical Equipment


  • Air Pollutants
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Nickel