Beryllium Exposure and Berylliose
Beryllium is an industrial metal with some attractive attributes. It is lighter than aluminum and 6x stronger than steel. It's usually combined with other metals and is a key component in the aerospace and electronics industries. Beryllium is also used in the production of nuclear weapons.
Exposure to Beryllium is generally through inhalation. Beryllium is extremely toxic to lung tissue. Welding produces fumes that are toxic when inhaled and beryllium is a welding material of concern. People working or living near beryllium industries have the greatest potential for exposure to beryllium. Lung damage has been observed in people exposed to high levels of beryllium in the air. About 1-15% of all people occupationally-exposed to beryllium in air become sensitive to beryllium and may develop chronic beryllium disease (CBD), an irreversible and sometimes fatal scarring of the lungs. CBD may be completely asymptomatic or begin with coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, and/or fatigue.
The effects depend on the extend of the exposure, and individual susceptibility. If beryllium air levels are high enough (greater than 1000 ug/m3 ), an acute condition can result. It can also result in anorexia, weight loss, and may also lead to right side heart enlargement and heart disease. The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have determined that beryllium is a human carcinogen. Smoking increases the risk of developing lung cancer. We do not know if exposure to beryllium will result in birth defects or other developmental effects in people. The studies on developmental effects in animals are not conclusive.
Beryllium can be measured in samples from blood, urine, skin, or lungs. Hair is tissue and can be used as an early diagnostic measure.