Warning over nickel limit

MANY Suffolk jewellers sell stock containing more than the legal limit of a metal that causes allergic skin reactions, a new survey has revealed.Some of jewellery tested by Suffolk Trading Standards released more than a hundred times the legal level of nickel on to the skin.

MANY Suffolk jewellers sell stock containing more than the legal limit of a metal that causes allergic skin reactions, a new survey has revealed.

Some of jewellery tested by Suffolk Trading Standards released more than a hundred times the legal level of nickel on to the skin.

Trading Standards officers took samples from a selection of jewellers from across the county and found 33% failed the nickel level test, the majority of which were small, independent businesses.

The survey also tested items from a range of other retailers and found one in five (21%) failed.


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Officers surveyed 48 traders from different sectors such as body piercing, beauty salons and retailers, and purchased 41 samples for testing. They found the highest level of failures was in small, independently-run jewellers shops, with retailers having the next highest level of failed results. None of the samples taken from body piercing shops or beauty salons failed.

Nickel is a silvery white metal often used to brighten jewellery, and is used in a variety of jewellery items including chains, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, wristwatch backs, buttons and zips.

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Some people have an allergic reaction to the metal when it comes into contact with their skin and research suggests about 10% of women are affected by contact dermatitis caused by nickel.

Nickel allergy is not inherited and it develops gradually from exposure.

Recent legislation was introduced in 2001 to control the content of nickel in jewellery in piercing and the release of nickel from items coming into contact with the skin. It is illegal for items of jewellery which have prolonged contact on the skin to release more than 0.5 micrograms of nickel per square centimetre per week.

Fair trading officer Sharon Sellors, said small independent jewellers shops had a large number of suppliers and had no way of ensuring that products ending up on the high street comply.

"A lot of their business is decided by fashion so cheap jewellery," she said.

"Some had huge amounts of nickel, something like 69 micrograms compared to the 0.5micrograms. It is a serious failure. Some of the consumers are young people. They are probably the most vulnerable group.

"We found the body piercers had very good levels of awareness and no problems from a compliance point of view."

As part of the project, trading standards officers also carried out questionnaires to assess the level of awareness among those selling jewellery about nickel legislation.

A separate survey for the public found only one person out of 26 interviewed knew that legal restrictions were in place.

During December 2001 and June 2002, 149,838 kilograms of jewellery was imported through the Port of Felixstowe.

Principal trading standards officer Adrian Winter warned traders could be prosecuted if samples of nickel release failed, resulting in up to a £5,000 fine.

"It has confirmed the level of knowledge of small independent jewellers is extremely poor especially as this is their core business. They are getting them from a lot of suppliers some times at least 50 suppliers and not making any checks at all.

"There could be prosecutions and it may do the industry good to have some prosecutions. We're trying to ensure businesses prevent it happening."

Any businesses wanting advice about nickel content can contact trading standards on 01473 584358.

Nickel has been used as a low status substitute for silver and is widely used in the commercial production of industrial components, house ware and cutlery.

The use of nickel is not banned. The law simply restricts the release of nickel ions from the item.

Nickel is thought to be the most common cause of skin contact allergy in Europe.

Nickel silver is also known as German silver and is the name given for a range of non-precious bright silvery metal alloys containing copper, nickel and zinc. It does not contain any silver.

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