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Soluble or insoluble describes the ability of a solid, liquid, or gaseous chemical substance to dissolve in a solvent. Solubility is determined by a number of factors including the physical properties of the solute and solvent, temperature, and pH. The amount of solute that can be dissolved depends on the saturation concentration, which is reached when adding additional solute fails to increase the solution concentration or precipitates excess solute. The saturation concentration can be predicted from solubility product equilibria, which are the result of a chemical reaction between two salts.
In a saturated solution of copper (II) sulfate and nickel (II) sulfide, the equilibrium between the Cu2+ and S42- ions is driven by complex formation. When a source of common ions is added, the solubility product curves shift to favor the less soluble copper(II) sulfide. Similarly, when a solution of Ni2+ and Mn2+ ions is enriched with sulfate ions, the equilibrium shifts to favor the more soluble nickel(II) sulfide. The 106-fold difference in Ksp between these salts makes selective precipitation of the more soluble MnS and NiS easy, but is much more difficult when the ions to be separated form salts with similar solubilities.
The soluble nickel compounds NiCl2 and NiSO4 have been shown to induce DNA damage and gene silencing in human cells in vitro. In addition, water-insoluble nickel compounds have been found to enter cells and elevate intracellular levels of nickel ions. To address the question of whether soluble or insoluble nickel compounds are more potent carcinogens, a model system was developed to determine the relative uptake and toxicity of soluble and insoluble nickel compounds in a single cell type.