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High Level Exposure of Beryllium Linked to Beryllium Disease

Beryllium is a lightweight, heat-resistant metal that is used in the aerospace, nuclear, and manufacturing industries. It is also present in a number of consumer products including dental appliances, wheel chairs, sports equipment, and electronic devices. Beryllium may be useful in a wide-range of industries and settings, but it is also known to cause chronic lung ailments in workers.

WHAT IS BERYLLIUM DISEASE?

When a person is exposed to high levels of beryllium through dust or fumes, they may develop beryllium disease, an ailment that primarily affects the lungs. Beryllium disease has two forms: acute and chronic. The acute form is now rare due to the regulations put forth by workplaces to prevent large quantities of the hazardous chemical from being released into the air. According to the Cleveland Clinic, of those working around beryllium, around 10 percent get sensitized to the metal, and approximately half of those people progress to develop chronic beryllium disease (CBD, or berylliosis).

Beryllium disease may be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms, which mimic those of pneumonia, can sometimes take thirty years or more to appear after exposure. Signs and symptoms of beryllium disease include:

  • Skin rash
  • Weight loss
  • Anorexia
  • Heart disease
  • Heart enlargement
  • Lung cancer

BERYLLIUM IN THE WORKPLACE

The most common source of beryllium exposure is through a working atmosphere. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) lists the following industries as those in which workers are most susceptible to beryllium exposure and illness:

  • Metal working (pure beryllium, copper and aluminum alloys, jet brake pads, aerospace components)
  • Ceramic manufacturing (semi-conductor chips, ignition modules, crucibles, jet engine blades, rocket covers)
  • Electronic applications (transistors, heat sinks, x-ray windows)
  • Atomic energy applications (heat shields, nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons)
  • Laboratory work (research and development, metallurgy, chemistry)
  • Extraction (ore and scrap metal)
  • Dental alloy production (crowns, bridges, dental plates)
  • Sporting goods manufacturing (golf clubs, bicycle frames)

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