Nickel carbonyl is used in refining nickel ore, forming nickel films and coatings, as a catalyst in various chemical reactions, and in glass plating.
Substance name: Nickel carbonyl
CASR number: 13463-39-3
Molecular formula: Ni(CO)4
Synonyms: Nickel tetracarbonyl; Tetracarbonyl nickel; (T-r)-nickel tetracarbonyl
Nickel carbonyl is a volatile, yellow liquid with a musty odour.
Melting Point: -25°C
Boiling Point: 43°C
Vapour Density: 5.89
Specific Gravity: 1.32 at 17°C
Nickel carbonyl is flammable and explosive. It is slightly soluble in water, but soluble in other organic solvents.
The National Pollutant Inventory (NPI) holds data for all sources of nickel carbonyl emissions in Australia.
Initial exposure to nickel carbonyl can cause headache, chest tightness, dizziness, weakness, sweating, cough, nausea and vomiting. These may improve, but hours later (12 hours to five days) following a severe exposure, lung (pulmonary) symptoms may appear including fever, pneumonia, respiratory failure, cerebral oedema and death. At lower concentrations these vapours cause irritation, congestion, and oedema of the lung. Nickel carbonyl is a probable human carcinogen, and may be a teratogen (cause harm to a foetus).
Entering the body
Nickel carbonyl will enter the body if we breathe in contaminated air. It can also pass through the skin.
Workers in the industries that use or produce nickel carbonyl are at risk of exposure. Consumers can be exposed to nickel carbonyl by exposure to air from production facilities, processing facilities, and disposal sites using or receiving nickel carbonyl.
Workplace exposure standards
Safe Work Australia sets the workplace exposure standard for nickel carbonyl through the workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants:
- Maximum eight hour time weighted average (TWA): 0.05 parts per million (0.12 mg/m3)
These standards are only appropriate for use in workplaces and are not limited to any specific industry or operation. Make sure you understand how to interpret the standards before you use them.
Drinking water guidelines
The Australian Drinking Water Guidelines include the following guidelines for acceptable water quality:
- Maximum of 0.02 milligrams per litre of water for health purposes
Nickel carbonyl evaporates when exposed to air. It has high acute (short-term) toxicity on aquatic life. It has high chronic (long-term) toxicity to aquatic life. Chronic and acute effects on plants, birds or land animals have not been determined. However, the serious effects seen in humans would be expected to be seen here. Nickel compounds are highly persistent in the environment, and are expected to bioaccumulate.
Entering the environment
Industrial emissions of nickel carbonyl can produce elevated, but still low level concentrations in the atmosphere around the source.
Where it ends up
Nickel carbonyl quickly evaporates to a gas if released as a liquid. It will oxidise in the air to nickel oxide and carbon dioxide.
Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters (ANZECC, 1992):
Fresh waters: Maximum of 15 to 150 micrograms per Litre (i.e. 0.000015 to 0.00015 g/L), depending on water hardness.
Marine waters: Maximum of 15 micrograms per Litre (i.e. 0.000015 g/L).
The primary sources of nickel carbonyl are the industries that manufacture it or use it in production, such as nickel mining and refining, the chemical industry, glass and metal plating companies.
Diffuse sources, and industry sources included in diffuse emissions data
Sub-threshold facilities in the industries that use the substance.
Nickel carbonyl is not expected to be found occurring naturally.
There are no known sources of mobile emissions of nickel carbonyl.
There are no known consumer products containing nickel carbonyl.
Sources used in preparing this information
- Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council (ANZECC) (1992) Australian Water Quality Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Waters
- ChemFinder WebServer Project (1995), Nickel carbonyl (accessed, May, 1999)
- Environmental Defense Fund (1998), Nickel carbonyl: The Chemical Scorecard: (accessed, May, 1999)
- Environmental Health Center, a division of the National Safety Council, Environment Writer – Chemical Backgrounders Nickel Compounds 1 (July, 1997) (accessed, May, 1999)
- National Environment Protection Council (1998a), National Environment Protection Measure for the National Pollutant Inventory (accessed, May, 1999)
- National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (US), International Chemical Safety Cards, Nickel carbonyl (accessed, May, 1999)
- New Jersey Department of Health, Right to Know Program (1986), TRIFacts, Nickel carbonyl (accessed, May, 1999)
- New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services (1995), Hazardous Substance Fact Sheet, Nickel Carbonyl, PO Box 368, Trenton, NJ.
- Technical Advisory Panel (1999), Final Report to the National Environment Protection Council.
- Worksafe Australia (1996), Hazardous Substance Nickel carbonyl (accessed, May, 1999)
- Safe Work Australia, Workplace exposure standards for airborne contaminants, accessed January 2019.
- National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011) - Updated October 2017, accessed May 2018.