What is Beryllium?
Beryllium refers to a brittle and steel-gray metal which is found as an ingredient of oil, coal, some rock minerals, soil, and volcanic dust. Since beryllium is light metal and very strong, it has some applications in aerospace, nuclear, and manufacturing industries. Furthermore, beryllium is a multipurpose metal alloy used in computers, automobiles, in dental appliances, wheelchairs, sports equipment such as bicycle frames and golf clubs, non-sparking tools, and electronic devices.
Beryllium and the Environment
Beryllium dust goes to the air from the burning of coal and oil, and comes down to the land and water and settle there. It can also go into the water due to an erosion of rocks and soil, and wastes from industries. There are some beryllium compounds that dissolve in the water but usually, they stick to particles and stay at the base. While some beryllium stays in the soil, it does not gather in the food chain.
Exposure to beryllium differs among various clusters of the population. The overall population is normally exposed to low beryllium levels in the air, in the foods, and in the water. For people who are working in industries where beryllium is mined, processed, machined or transformed into metal alloys and other forms of chemicals, has high chances of exposures to beryllium. Those who are living in these industries or close to uncontrolled toxic wastes sites have the risks of exposure to higher beryllium levels compared to normal beryllium levels.
Beryllium Health Effects
Beryllium can become detrimental if you breathe it. The side effects will depend on the quantity and length of your exposure. When the beryllium air levels are really high, breathing it in can lead to acute health condition known as acute beryllium illness which is similar to pneumonia.
Chronic Beryllium Disease or CBD can emerge many years after your exposure to very high levels of beryllium. CBD results in weakness, difficulty in breathing, fatigue, weight loss, anorexia, and in advanced conditions, it can lead to right side heart enlargement and other heart diseases.
The CBD will only develop to those who are sensitized to beryllium (beryllium sensitization). This sensitized individual means he/she has developed some allergic reaction to beryllium. A worker may become sensitized at any point while working. People who become sensitive to beryllium can have an inflammatory reaction in the respiratory system. Beryllium can cause lung and skin diseases in 2 to 10% of exposed workers, while the overall population will tend to develop acute or chronic beryllium diseases. When the skin with cut comes in contact with beryllium, this can result in rashes and ulcers in the skin. However, there are no reported deaths in people because small amount of beryllium is absorbed to the stomach and intestines.
Beryllium as a Carcinogen (Cancer–Causing)
Long exposure to beryllium can intensify the chances of lung cancer. The Department of Health and Human Services or DHHS and the International Agency for Research on Cancer or IARC have established that beryllium is a potential carcinogen that can affect the health condition of people.
Beryllium and Your Family
Normally, families are not subjected to very high levels of beryllium. However, children must be prevented to play with soils close to hazardous waste sites where beryllium may have been trashed.
Even if there are no studies yet as to the effects of beryllium to children, it is probable that it will have the same effects with the adults. It is still not clear if the children will be affected differently than the adults and their susceptibility to beryllium exposures.
It is still unknown if exposure to beryllium can result in birth defects or other developmental effects. The ongoing studies that are being conducted with animals are not yet conclusive.
Beryllium can be tested in the urine and blood. The quantity of beryllium in the blood or urine, however, may not be correctly indicated the amount or when the individual was exposed. Beryllium levels can also be assessed in the lung and skin samples. A blood test called beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test or BeLPT can be used to recognize the beryllium sensitization. It also has predictive value for the CBD.
Federal Government Standards for Beryllium
The EPA has the authority to restrict how much beryllium that industries should emit in the air, which is up to 0.01u/m3 average for a thirty-day period. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA fixes a limit of 2 ug/m3 of workroom air for an 8-hour work period.
Beryllium Exposure – Getting Legal Help
If you or your family have been suffering from any of the symptoms given earlier, or if you have developed any medical condition due to beryllium exposure, then you must seek immediate medical attention. In case you have been exposed to high levels of beryllium at your workplace without any sufficient, or in violation of the government standards, you can contact an experienced lawyer and discuss fully the alternatives you need to choose and to protect your rights to a legal solution for your injuries due to exposure of beryllium.