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Contamination by nickel, copper and zinc during the handling of euro coins

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The introduction of the euro has revived interest in the risk of nickel allergy due to the handling of coins. In the present work, the transfer of metallic contamination during the manipulation of coins is examined by means of leaching experiments and manipulation tests. It is shown that pre-existing metallic species present on the surface of the coins are the major source of contamination during manipulation, and that friction inherent to everyday usage contributes predominantly to their transfer to the hands. The comparison of coins as to their relative risks of metal contamination should therefore rely on tests that simulate the friction inherent in everyday human handling. Carrying out such tests with the newly issued 1€ and 2€ pieces, we find, contrary to long-term leaching measurements, that the euros release less nickel than previously circulated pure-nickel coins, but that this decrease is less pronounced than might have been hoped for on the basis of their surface composition. When the coins are rubbed to a shiny polish before manipulation, contamination of the fingers is reduced by more than a factor of 10. A comparison of coins used in France indicates that the introduction of the common currency has led to a fourfold reduction in contamination by nickel, while causing a 45% increase in contamination by copper.
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Keywords: coins; contact allergy; copper; euro; leaching; manipulation; nickel; pH; zinc

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Laboratoire de Spectroscopie de Translation, Université Paris-Sud, Orsay, 2: Aecono Consulting, Paris, France

Publication date: 01 April 2003

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