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26-04-2012 | Article

Nickel-plated coins ‘may cause skin allergy’

Abstract

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MedWire News: Skin experts in the UK have called on the government to assess the allergy risks of the new nickel-plated coins being introduced by the Treasury.

The new coins use the proprietary "aRMour" plating process, which according to the Royal Mint offers advantages "including significant cost savings and exceptional wear-resistance, which leads to a long lifetime in circulation." The new coins will be introduced within the next few months.

The health concerns regard the new 5-pence and 10-pence coins, which are made from steel but plated with pure nickel; previous versions of the coins were made from cupronickel, an alloy comprising three-quarters copper and one-quarter nickel.

Nickel is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis - an itchy rash that appears when the skin touches a usually harmless substance. Nickel allergy is commonly associated with earrings and other jewelry for body piercings, but it can be found in many everyday items.

Nickel allergy can affect people of all ages, and usually develops after repeated or prolonged exposure to items containing nickel.

Recently, the Swedish Riksbank reviewed its coinage and concluded that nickel-plated coins "pose unacceptable risks to health," note Dr Danielle Greenblatt, a physician at St John's Institute of Dermatology in London. Sweden has now banned the use of nickel-containing alloys in any of its coinage.

In a letter published in the British Medical Journal, Dr Greenblatt and colleagues say that the UK government needs to consider not only the direct costs associated with producing the coins but also the potential costs to health - both to individuals who may develop allergic contact dermatitis, and to the healthcare system that will treat these people - and the implications for taxpayers, through inability to work because of hand dermatitis.

"Considerable evidence supports these concerns, which have not been assessed by the Treasury or the Royal Mint," Dr Greenblatt and team write. Indeed, the Royal Mint admits it has not undertaken a risk-assessment of the potential health impact of the new coins, leading Dr Greenblatt and team to accuse the Mint of being "poorly informed."

Dr Greenblatt and colleagues are now calling on the Government's Chief Scientific Advisor to give his view on the matter, and to provide answers to three specific questions relating to the new coins: how much nickel is released each week?; have coin-handling studies been performed?; and has a risk-assessment been undertaken to determine the effect of the coins on people with nickel contact allergy.

"It should be for the public record that a competent risk-assessment has formally considered these matters," the experts state.

MedWire (www.medwire-news.md) is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Joanna Lyford