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Nickel Testing – How Does the New Legislation Affect Me?

30 Aug 2012

What is Nickel?

Nickel is a universally found material and, as it is cheaper than other more inert metals, it is used widely in the costume jewellery industry.

Why Do We Need to Test for Nickel?

Nickel is the most common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, with 10% of UK adults being affected. As Nickel is universally used in products, it is hard for sufferers to avoid. This can be serious for patients who develop hand dermatitis through nickel, as it can easily permeate through the skin of their hands resulting in long term disabilities.

Dermatologists believe that sensitisation is most likely to occur with prolonged contact to nickel or nickel products being worn in body or ear piercings and estimations indicate that up to 15% of woman and 5% of men in Europe are nickel sensitised. This has resulted in the initiation of the development of the European Nickel Directive, enforced by UK Nickel Regulations.

What is the Current Legislation?

Current Legislation states that any manufacturer, importer, wholesaler or retailer will be breaking the law if:

In order to support the legislation and ensure products comply, they must be tested to the correct British Standards, BS EN 1811:1998 and BS EN 12472.

To help improve quality and standards the European CEN Steering Group has now revised BS EN 1811.

What is the New Legislation?

The new legislation will be effective from March 2013 and incorporated in to REACH. BS EN 1811:2011 is relevant to all articles which are intended to come into direct and extended contact with skin including ear/body piercing posts.

A number of changes have been made to the existing test method to improve consistency and allow repeatability of results. For example, the test solution is now more stable and a procedure for measuring the surface area has been clearly defined. This is very welcome but does have serious implications for the watch and jewellery supply chain.

The largest and most significant change is to the calculation formula. Due to the lack of consistency of the current method, the release result is multiplied by 0.1, effectively reducing it to one tenth of its value.  With the current standard, the adjustment factor of 0.1 has replaced with an ‘uncertainty of measurement’ which will normally be taken as 45%. So in practise this moves the compliance levels for an article in contact with the skin from 5µg/cm2/week to less than or equal to 0.28 and for piercing assemblies from 2µg/cm2/week to less than or equal to 0.11.

What are the cost implications?

From an analytical view point, the new method potentially could increase costs for any test houses that do not currently have an ICP (Inductively Coupled Plasma – Optical Emission Spectrophotometry) as, to accurately test solutions containing a very low concentration of nickel, this piece of equipment is required. Sheffield Analytical Services have three ICP instruments in place and our Technical Team are highly experienced in the techniques required to run this equipment.

Also, the 18 carat white gold nickel alloy reference sample, used for every nickel alloy test, must now only be used once. The standard also requires a minimum of three test samples to be tested where possible, increasing testing cost and stock wastage. There will also now be a ‘No Decision’ category meaning an item has neither passed nor failed.

Sheffield Analytical Services are not planning to increase our nickel testing prices initially when the new legislation comes into force but the analytical costs will be reviewed regularly.

How is Sheffield Analytical Services managing this transition?

Currently, we are still testing to BS EN 1811:1998+A1:2008, unless otherwise requested by our customers, but will be moving to BS EN 1811:2011 completely in March 2013 when the legislation becomes fully effective.

Sheffield Analytical Services strives to give our customers as much information and guidance as possible in relation to current legislation and the testing of nickel and other toxic metals that can be found in costume jewellery but advises that companies should always take their own legal advice on this very important issue.

Should you have any further questions relating to nickel testing and the associated legislation, please do not hesitate to contact us. We would be happy to discuss this with you.


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