Nickel and its compounds

The substance
Nickel is silvery white in colour, melting at 1453 0C. It is hard, malleable, and ductile, has magnetic and corrosion resistant properties and is a fair conductor of heat and electricity. It forms a variety of inorganic and organic compounds. Many nickel salts are green in colour. Nickel is obtained from minerals laterite, pentlandite and pyrhotite. Nickel containing minerals could be found in 25 countries, including Canada, New Caledonia, Greece, Australia, Russia etc.

The main uses of nickel and its compounds are in stainless steel, nickel containing alloys with anti-corrosion properties and electroplating. Nickel is used in many industrial applications including the sectors construction, transport, automotive, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, chemicals and batteries.

Major emissions
Major man-made sources of release of nickel are the combustion of coal and heavy fuel oil. Emissions from refineries and from refinery products (including road tar) are particularly important because of the large amount of refinery fuel oil and residues burnt which contain nickel from the original crude oil. Other sources include emissions from mining and refining operations, municipal waste incineration, and windblown dust. Nickel is found naturally in the earth's crust (in various forms such as nickel sulphides and oxides), and is present in small quantities in soils, aquatic environments, and vegetation. Nickel is part of meteorites.

Impacts on human health and environment
Excessive exposure to nickel may cause health effects on the blood, lung, nose, kidney, reproductive system, skin and the unborn child. In prolonged and direct contact with skin, nickel may cause an allergic reaction on nickel sensitized people. Chronic inhalation exposure to nickel fumes may cause cancer. Nickel is also toxic to aquatic life. However, hazards depend on the form and bioavailability of nickel. Very small amounts of nickel have been shown to be essential for normal growth and reproduction in some species of animals and plants. Nickel and its compounds are listed as priority substance in the Water Framework Directive. Nickel metal and certain nickel compounds are priority substances under Regulation 793/93. The Risk assessments reports are currently under discussion by a Committee of Technical Experts representing Member States, Industry and NGOs.

Emission to air reporting threshold: 50 kg/year

Emission to water reporting threshold: 20 kg/year

Data source: European Pollutant Emission Register