Beryllium

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Beryllium is a hard, grayish metal that is found in mineral rocks, coal, soil, and volcanic dust.[1]

Uses

Beryllium is used in nuclear weapons and reactors, aircraft and space vehicle structures, instruments, x-ray machines, and mirrors.[2] Additionally, beryllium ores are used in specialty ceramics for electrical and high-technology applications and beryllium alloys are used in automobiles, computers, sports equipment (golf clubs and bicycle frames), and dental bridges.

In the Environment

Beryllium enters the air as dust from burning coal and oil.[3] Eventually, the dust settles in the land and water. Beryllium also enters water from erosion of rocks and soil and from industrial waste. Some beryllium compounds can dissolve in water but most stick to particles and settle to the bottom in bodies of water. In the soil, most beryllium remains bound to the soil.

In Sewage Sludge

Beryllium may also enter the environment if it is in sewage sludge that is applied on land. In the Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey, a 2009 test of 84 samples of sewage sludge from around the U.S., the EPA found beryllium in 83 samples (99%) in concentrations ranging from 0.04 to 2.3 parts per million.[4]

Human Exposure

Most people are exposed to low levels of beryllium in air, food, and water.[5] People can be exposed to higher levels of beryllium if they work mining, processing, or otherwise working with beryllium. People living near these industries or near hazardous waste sites may also be exposed to high levels of beryllium.

Health Effects

Beryllium can be harmful if it is inhaled, depending on how much beryllium one inhales and how long the exposure lasts. "If beryllium air levels are high enough (greater than 1000 µg/m3), an acute condition can result. This condition resembles pneumonia and is called acute beryllium disease."[6]

Individuals who are sensitive to beryllium can develop an inflammatory reaction in the respiratory system. This is called chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and can occur many years after exposure to higher than normal levels of beryllium (greater than 0.5 µg/m3). "This disease can make you feel weak and tired, and can cause difficulty in breathing. It can also result in anorexia, weight loss, and may also lead to right side heart enlargement and heart disease in advanced cases. Some people who are sensitized to beryllium may not have any symptoms. The general population is unlikely to develop acute or chronic beryllium disease because ambient air levels of beryllium are normally very low (0.00003-0.0002 µg/m3)."[7]

Beryllium is also a probably human carcinogen, as long term exposure can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.[8]

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles

References

  1. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  2. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  3. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  4. Targeted National Sewage Sludge Survey Report, US EPA website, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  5. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  6. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  7. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.
  8. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Beryllium, Accessed August 28, 2010.

External resources

External articles