Doctors are calling on the Royal Mint to begin tests immediately on the new 5p and 10p coins, to assess the health risks. The new currency is being introduced in order to save money, because it uses a cheaper nickel-coated steel. However, it has emerged that similar coins have been banned in Sweden because of the health risks.
So are these coins dangerous, and will this be the latest in a long line of currency scares?
ConcernsThe risks emerged in a letter to the website of the British Medical Journal, from Danielle Greenblatt and Ian White of St John's Institute of Dermatology and David Gawkrodger of the Royal Hallamshire Hospital. The letter, reported by the Daily Telegraph said the risk of allergic reactions to the coins needs to be assessed as a matter of urgency - and the risks made public.
The new currency is made of cheap nickel-coated steel, replacing the old cupronickel coins (which are 75% copper and 25% nickel) - which is expected to save the Treasury up to £8 million a year after a surge in the price of copper.
Royal MintThe doctors warned that the Royal Mint hadn't properly investigated the risk of serious skin reactions, and the potential costs to the NHS. The letter said: "The Royal Mint may have followed all the rules with regards to the introduction of new coinage, but there is still no proof that those with hand eczema – dermatitis – or nickel contact allergies will not suffer."
The Royal Mint, meanwhile, told the newspaper it had followed legislation and guidelines and "can confirm that the new nickel-plated 5p and 10p coins have no additional potential to cause adverse effects on people with allergic contact dermatitis and hand dermatitis".
Ongoing problemsOf course the proof will be in the circulation, and whether there is an outbreak of allergic reactions as the new coins take up residence in money boxes and purses.
It is just the latest controversy surrounding the coins, which raised concerns at the end of last year after the announcement was made, when it emerged that it would cost the vending machine industry a shocking £42 million.
Top five scandalsBut this is far from the only currency scandal to rock the UK in recent years. We reveal five of the most shocking stories:
1. The Royal Mint revealed that there are around 44 million fake pound coins in circulation - up 100% in just ten years. Passing one on is illegal.
2. A report a decade ago in the Observer concluded that 80% of all UK bank notes were contaminated with drugs. As a result around £15 million in notes is destroyed every year because it poses a health hazard.
3. St Mary's Hospital in London has highlighted that notes pose a risk of spreading Hepitits-C. Fortunately, the risk is limited to drug users who share notes for drug taking.
4. A study by St Queen Mary University of London to mark the release of Contagion on DVD found that 26% of banknotes and 47% of credit cards carry more germs than a toilet seat. Some even harbour E.coli.
5. A recent study by Biocote found that the key pads on ATMs carried more germs that public toilets.