Beryllium is a hard, gray-colored metal which is part of certain rocks, minerals, coal and oil. Beryllium is mined from these sources to be purified or to be used in mixtures of other metals. Pure beryllium metal is used in nuclear reactors and weapons. Other forms of beryllium are used to make high-tech machinery and equipment.

Workers can come into contact with beryllium when they machine, weld, or cut metals that contain beryllium. In these operations, very fine beryllium particle dusts can be formed and inhaled by workers. The particles can stay in the air for up to ten days; therefore exposure from breathing beryllium is possible long after the actual work has been completed. Breathing beryllium dust is the most common route of worker exposure.

If you were exposed to beryllium, you may be at risk for short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) health effects. With high levels of exposure, a worker can develop “acute beryllium disease”, a condition that causes lung damage and irritation similar to pneumonia. (Exposures at levels high enough to cause acute beryllium disease are rare today.) At lower levels of exposure, a condition called chronic beryllium disease (CBD), can occur. CBD is an inflammatory reaction in the lung tissue. Over time, constant inflammation can cause scar tissue (granulomas) to form. Large areas of inflammation and scar tissue can prevent the lung from working properly, which can lead to significant disability. Symptoms of CBD include cough, shortness of breath, fever and fatigue. This disease can take many years to develop and can appear long after exposure has stopped. Long term exposure to beryllium can also increase the risk of developing lung cancer.

For more information see “Beryllium Testing” fact sheet.

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