Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | March 24, 2009

Kentucky environmental attorney Sanders says work place exposure to dust from elemental beryllium and beryllium alloys is toxic to humans.

Pure beryllium is a hard, grayish material obtained from the minerals bertrandite and beryl. It is the second lightest metal known to man and is found in over 30 different minerals.  Because it is lightweight and has a high melting point, beryllium is commonly used in the aerospace and defense industry. 

Beryllium is also used in many other manufacturing industries. For example, beryllium copper is used in many springs.  The characteristics peculiar to beryllium copper as a spring material include corrosion resistance, excellent electrical conductivity, and high fatigue strength. In addition they are nonmagnetic.

Unfortunately, exposure to dust from grinding and polishing beryllium or its alloys poses a substantial risk of danger to humans, including lung cancer and death.  In short, beryllium dust is highly toxic to humans.  Inhaling dust containing metallic beryllium, beryllium oxide, beryllium-copper and other alloys, or beryllium salts are the major exposure risks leading to disease (Martyny et al. 2000; Sawyer et al. 2002; Willis and Florig 2002).

Beryllium disease was first noted in the 1930s in Europe. In the 1940s, reports of disease related to beryllium surfaced among workers exposed to beryllium-containing phosphors in the fluorescent lamp industry and the nuclear weapons industry (Kress and Crispell 1944). Industry standards and environmental controls for beryllium were initially established in the late 1940s.

 

Lung damage has been observed in people exposed to beryllium dust in the air.  Inhalation of beryllium dust particles can lead to beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Beryllium sensitization is a condition in which a person’s immune system becomes highly responsive to the presence of beryllium in the body. CBD is a debilitating and often fatal lung disease characterized by lung-tumor formation.

 

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’s symptoms are persistent coughing, difficulty breathing upon physical exertion, fatigue, chest and joint pain, weight loss, and fevers.  Beryllium and beryllium compounds are human carcinogens. 

 

Experts estimate that more than 135,000 U.S. workers are exposed to beryllium in the work place, though precise numbers for the total number of workers exposed to beryllium are publically unavailable (Henneberger et al. 2004). This estimate does not include former workers, contract workers, and construction workers, who were exposed to beryllium dust in plants using beryllium. (Newman et al. 2005; Glazer and Newman 2003).  Industries and occupations with potential beryllium exposure include

 

  • aerospace,
  • automotive parts,
  • computers,
  • construction trades,
  • dental supplies and prosthesis manufacture,
  • electronics,
  • industrial ceramics,
  • laboratory workers,
  • metal recycling,
  • mining of beryl ore (beryl ore extraction),
  • nuclear weapons,
  • precision machine shops,
  • smelting/foundry,
  • tool and die manufacture, and
  • welding.

The greatest human health risk is from breathing in dust containing beryllium or a beryllium alloy.  As a general rule, any process or workplace where beryllium can become airborne, in the form of microscopic particles, dust, or fumes, presents a potential serious health hazard for workers.  Because of its unique properties, beryllium is commonly used in many high-technology consumer and commercial products. Thus, the most common disease vector for human exposure is through airborne dust particles of beryllium metal, alloys, oxides, and ceramics (Kolanz 2001).   

 

Workers and their families can also be exposed to beryllium dust from hand-to-mouth exposure, dermal contact with ultrafine particles, and handling and washing clothes contaminated with beryllium dust (Kolanz et al. 2001; Deubner et al. 2001; Tinkle et al. 2003).

 

Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) occurs when people inhale beryllium dust or fume and can take anywhere from a few months to 30 years to develop. 

 

If you suspect that you have a disease or condition caused by exposure to beryllium dust, you should contact us to speak with a qualified attorney to investigate whether you may be entitled to seek compensation for your injuries.

 

 

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