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Study Shows Coins Impact Nickel Allergy
By Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
July 25, 2013

This article was originally printed in World Coin News.
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Never let it be said things can get dull where coin production is involved. Here go the alarm bells again. A study has determined those persons with a nickel allergy should not handle coins of Great Britain!

The irony is that the study wasn’t initiated in Great Britain, but in Sweden. According to the scientific assessment published in Contact Dermatitis, when the British Royal Mint replaced existing copper-nickel 5- and 10-pence coins with nickel-plated steel coins last year this quadrupled the public’s exposure to nickel allergic reactions. Great Britain made the change to save the government about £10 million (about $14 million US) in annual material costs.

According to the June 3 issue of Science Daily, the British made no health assessment of the change in the composition of the two coin denominations.

The Contact Dermatitis assessment indicates artificial sweat was used in the Swedish study. The study concluded, “the amount of nickel deposited onto skin during the handling of nickel-plated coins over one hour was four times higher than that from copper-nickel coins.”

Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet spokesman Dr. Anneli Julander said, “The old cupronickel versions, containing 75 percent copper and 25 percent nickel, are now being replaced by cheaper nickel-plated steel. No risk assessment was undertaken by the Royal Mint before release of the coins. This is of public health concern and the fears raised by British dermatologists are now confirmed. Nickel in coins needs to be included in the EU [European Union] restriction of nickel (REACH) to protect the citizen.”

The May 31 issue of the British newspaper Daily Mail indicated researchers from the St. John’s Institute of Dermatology at St. Thomas’ Hospital, London have also been involved in an impact study of the change in coinage metals.

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According to the Daily Mail, “The number of people with a nickel allergy has soared in recent years with around one in five women and one in 10 in the general population affected. The problem has become so great that Europe recently introduced strict new rules on how much nickel can be used in personal items worn next to the skin such as watch straps, earrings, and necklaces.”

The Daily Mail explained that coins were excluded from recent British studies of nickel allergy problems because it was thought they did not release enough nickel to trigger allergy.

But research shows that people with a nickel allergy who handle coins frequently could suffer a reaction because the friction leads to higher exposure than in laboratory conditions.

Don’t be too quick to blame the BRM for not conducted proper impact studies. The mint asked three laboratories to assess health issues when the metal changeover was taking place. These laboratories used standard EU tests to measure the amount of nickel released when a coin is placed into artificial sweat. No increase was indicated. Contact Dermatitis said the studies were flawed since nickel is released by the friction of handling a coin.

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