Chronic Beryllium Disease
Beryllium, a naturally occurring lightweight
metal with a variety of industrial uses, can cause a serious lung
disease called chronic beryllium disease (CBD). CBD is caused by
breathing in particles of beryllium that are small enough to travel
deep into the lung. The particles can cause an allergic reaction
that leads to inflammation of the lung tissue. Over time, this
constant inflammation can cause scar tissue to form. Large areas
of inflammation and scar tissue can prevent the lung from working
properly, which can lead to significant disability.
Special Medical Screening Test for CBD Available
Since certain Department of Energy (DOE) workers
are potentially at risk for the development of CBD, WHPP screens
workers that were possibly exposed to beryllium. The screening
procedure is done with a special blood test. This blood test, called
lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT), determines
whether the body has developed an allergic reaction or sensitivity to
beryllium. The lymphocytes (pronounced lim´-fo-sites)
are a type of white blood cell that the body uses to fight off
foreign particles; in other words, they are part of the body’s
allergic or immune system response. The BeLPT test measures how
much the lymphocytes react to beryllium. In a sensitized person,
the lymphocytes will usually show quick growth (proliferation)
when exposed to beryllium. This is called a positive or abnormal
BeLPT blood test result.
Follow-up on Abnormal Beryllium Blood Tests
An abnormal BeLPT blood test can be the first sign of CBD and can help to distinguish CBD from other diseases that have the same symptoms. It is important to note, however, that even if a beryllium blood test is abnormal, this does not establish a diagnosis of CBD. It means that further medical tests should be done to find out if in fact CBD is present. As with all medical tests, there is a chance that the beryllium blood test could have false positive results (i.e. abnormal test results when no disease is present).
Participants Who Test ABNORMAL Can Get a
Evaluation for CBD
Any WHPP participant with at least one abnormal BeLPT is eligible to participate in a special medical program that is part of the federal workers’ compensation program for energy workers and is administered by the DOL. The results letter that is sent to WHPP participants with at least one abnormal beryllium test result will explain how to participate in this follow-up program. The purpose of the DOE/DOL program is to determine if participants actually have CBD. For participants with one abnormal BeLPT, usually the first step is to do a repeat BeLPT (if not already done through the WHPP). Additional medical tests for the diagnosis of CBD are usually recommended once a participant has two abnormal BeLPT blood tests (i.e., both the initial and repeat BeLPT are abnormal). The follow-up medical tests are free (if your claim is accepted) and may include analysis of lung tissue (biopsy), breathing tests, and CT scans of the lung. (These tests are not done at the same clinic where the screening was done.) Although CBD is not curable, it is a treatable condition. Therefore, it is important to get follow-up testing to confirm if CBD is present. Additional reasons to get follow-up testing include the following:
- You are more likely to get proper treatment. (Your
regular doctor will now be able to recognize CBD and treat you
- Early treatment slows down the progress of
the disease in some people.
- Identifying beryllium disease can prevent complications from
developing. For example, the doctor may advise you to take steps
to protect your lungs such as getting annual flu shots or one-time
pneumonia shots or treating lung infections early.
If CBD is diagnosed, it is recommended that further exposure be prevented.
This can involve potentially changing what you do at work.