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Nickel Allergy Blog

Nickel Allergy and Legislation in the United States

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So a great question those of us suffering from nickel allergy should be asking is: Why doesn't the United States have any sort of legislation regarding the use of nickel in our society? Why does Europe have a nickel directive, and we do not?

Since June 30th, 1994, the EU has had legislation in place limiting the use of nickel in any article of clothing, piece of jewelry, or any other item that can come in contact with skin.   It is illegal to use nickel!

So why is it, twenty years later, we don't have our own directive here in the United States?

As I thought about this question I tried to come up with reasons for why we are deemed less worth of protection than our fellow allergy sufferers on the other side of the Atlantic.

Was there legislation attempted, but buried by malevolent clothing and jewelry lobbyists?

Could it be a lack of awareness?

I started my search for answers with attempts at legislation. Jumping on the internet, I searched the congressional records first. Doing a keyword search for “nickel allergy”, I scanned the records from the 113th Congress, which is the current Congress, to the 101st Congress, which took office in 1989. Unfortunately, none of the congressional records pulled a match for that keyword term.  There were plenty of hits for the keyword "nickel", but it always came up in the context of how scrap metal should be handled, or the proper disposal of batteries.

I then checked the legislation of California, my home state. While there were many keyword hits for “nickel”, there were none for “nickel allergy”. But then my heart gave a flutter! After going through twenty years of records, I saw a keyword term for “nickel-free”! Opening the text of the bill that was passed, I was disappointed to find this:

(c) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), a person shall not
manufacture, ship, sell, offer for sale, or offer for promotional
purposes body piercing jewelry for retail sale or promotional
purposes in the state, unless the body piercing jewelry is made of
one or more of the following materials:

(1) Surgical implant stainless steel.

(2) Surgical implant grade of titanium.

(3) Niobium (Nb).

(4) Solid 14 karat or higher white or yellow nickel-free gold.

(5) Solid platinum.

(6) A dense low-porosity plastic, including, but not limited to,
Tygon or Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), if the plastic contains no
intentionally added lead.

It was close, but this was actually a bill regarding the use of metals in body-piercings.  I took heart from this, though! At least there is some concern somewhere in the cogs of government!

After this bit of research, I felt there was enough evidence to rule out evil corporations “out-lobbying” the nickel allergy population, since even bills that don’t make it are view-able. There went my conspiracy theory!

So could it be a lack of awareness?

That is hard for me to imagine, and here is why: The most current statistics on the numbers of people suffering from nickel allergy is actually in the 14%-17% range. That is a very significant number! As of 2013, the estimated population in the United States is around 317,000,000. Using the low end of the newer statistics, 14%, would mean that 44,380,000 people in the U.S. should be wearing one of our nickel free belts! Now, let’s go a little deeper with the numbers: There are 100 Senators, and 435 members of Congress. 535 x 14% = 74.9. There are about 75 people in Congress that are suffering from nickel allergy (I wonder if any of them have bought our belts? I will have to look at the sales records!).

So the evidence is showing that a lack of awareness is probably not the problem, since it would have to be impossible based on the statistics alone.

So what is it? Is nickel allergy such a minor problem that nobody can, or should, be bothered by it? Hard to believe the 2008 “Allergen of the Year” made the list by being innocuous (and yes, that is a real award. 2013 Allergen of the Year was “Methylisothiazolinone”. I have to admit, that does sound more ominous than “Nickel).

In the end I have decided there can only be one answer.  It is because we Americans are hard working and busy living life. Now, I am certainly not saying people in Europe are lazy and sitting around on the couch all day! But I am saying that we have very different systems of government. Having grown up in Denmark, I can tell you that government is enormous and cumbersome over there. We complain here in the U.S. about the invasion of government (scandals involving Edward Snowden revelations aside), but it is nothing like over there! Micro-managing is an art form. In Denmark you would pay property taxes, just as you would here, but over there the tax man counts the numbers of windows with views in your house, and that will make a difference in what you pay! In Europe bureaucracy is always on the prowl for a new cause, and it tends to enjoy being proactive. Over here, we pretty much like to be left alone until something is wrong. We tend to be more reactive, at which point we follow a “squeaky-wheel-gets-the-oil” doctrine. We have let things lie, adopted a nickel-free lifestyle, and gotten back to our day-to-day living. But maybe it is time to put our collective voices together and be heard? Today I took the first step and sent a simple message to my representatives in Congress, asking them to look into adding a nickel directive to our laws. I am hoping that you, who took the time to read this article, will also send a message to your representative today. It is really not hard to reach the ears of those that make the decisions, and surprisingly, they tend to welcome sane, thoughtful requests! The message doesn't have to be long, and the whole process will take less than five minutes. To make it as easy as possible, I have included two links below. One to locate your Congress-person, and one to locate your Senators (you actually have two Senators in each state, and you should contact each one. You can just copy and paste your message from one into the email of the other).

To find your Congress-person, go to:

http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

Simply type in your zip code and hit “enter”. Voila! Then click the little email envelope next to their picture to go straight to their email form!

For your Senator go to:

http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/...

Choose your state from the drop down menu and two names will show up. Just click on the links under their phone numbers to be taken to their respective websites. These are a little more hit and miss. Some will take you straight to an email form; some will take you to a main “contact” page, where you can choose “e-mail me”.

Here is a quick snippet you can copy and paste to save even more time:

As a nickel allergy sufferer, I am hoping that our country will soon have legislation in place requiring that manufacturers of products that come in contact with skin will be required to source their metals nickel free. Europe has had such a directive in place since 1994 and I think it is time we do as well.

Ask friends and family to join in!  I am going to send this blog post to everyone on Nickelfreebelts.com's extensive mailing list.  With a little luck, who knows?  A simple addition to an existing piece of legislation and none of us will ever have to worry about what we are wearing again!  

Now, I realize that if we are collectively successful I run the risk of putting my employer out of business, but to be honest, I think that would be OK by them!

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