What is beryllium?
Beryllium is a metal that is used in the manufacturing of dozens of items, including cars, computers, golf clubs, and electrical equipment. Beryllium is light, non-magnetic, and a good conductor of heat and electricity, which is why it is used so widely.
What is beryllium disease?
Beryllium-induced lung disease can occur when beryllium dust or fumes are inhaled. There are 2 types of beryllium disease, acute and chronic:
- Acute beryllium disease is very rare today. Current workplace safety regulations prevent the massive quantities of beryllium that cause acute beryllium disease from being released into the air.
- Chronic beryllium disease (CBD, berylliosis) is associated with inhaling beryllium powder or fumes (although inhaling beryllium does not always lead to CBD). An exposed person usually gets sensitized to beryllium prior to progressing to CBD. Sensitization is similar to an allergy; when allergic or sensitized, the body reacts negatively to that particular substance. Beryllium sensitivity and CBD can develop soon after exposure or many (30-40) years later. Of those working around beryllium, about 10% get sensitized to it and about half of those progress to develop CBD.
There is no health threat associated with contact with solid beryllium; however, both the solid and powder forms can cause irritation if they come in contact with broken skin.
What are the symptoms of beryllium disease?
In the early stages of the disease, little or no symptoms are experienced by the individual. When a person begins to develop CBD, inflammation (swelling) occurs in the lungs because they are reacting to a foreign object. The lungs' typical response to the beryllium exposure is to develop collections of cells known as granulomas that may eventually cause scarring within the lungs. This scarring, in turn, reduces the lungs' ability to function. Over time, the inflammation response continues, and eventually symptoms may appear, including:
- Difficulty breathing/shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Joint pain