Beryllium is a toxic bivalent element, steel grey, strong, lightweight, primarily used as hardening agent in alloys. Beryllium has one of the highest melting points of the light metals. It has excellent thermal conductivity, is nonmagnetic, it resists attack by concentrated nitric acid and at standard temperature and pressures beryllium resist oxidation when exposed to air. [1]

Beryllium is a naturally occurring element that is present in rocks, coal, oil, soil, and volcanic dust. Some beryllium compounds are soluble in water. Two kinds of minerals, bertrandite and beryl, are commercially mined for the recovery of beryllium. The majority of beryllium that is mined is converted into alloys. [2]

Uses [3]

Industrial grade beryl is used as a feedstock for beryllium metal, alloys and oxide, all of which have many high-tech applications particularly in the nuclear, electronic and ceramic industries. Beryllium is a structural material in space technology, inertial guidance systems, additive in rocket fuels, moderator and reflector of neutrons in nuclear reactors (e.g. at ANSTO, Lucas Heights). Pure beryllium metal is used to make aircraft disc brakes, nuclear weapons and reactors, aircraft-satellite-space vehicle structures and instruments, X-ray transmission windows, missile parts, fuel containers, precision instruments, rocket propellants, navigational systems, heat shields, and mirrors. Beryllium alloys such as beryllium-copper are used in electrical connectors and relays, springs, precision instruments, aircraft engine parts, non-sparking tools, submarine cable housings and pivots, wheels, and pinions. More specifically, beryllium oxide is used in the manufacture of specialty electrical and high-technology ceramics, special glass, electronic heat sinks, electron tubes, electrical insulators, electronics components, microwave oven components, nuclear fuels and nuclear moderators, gyroscopes, military vehicle armour, rocket nozzles, and laser structural components. Beryllium chloride is used in refining beryllium ores and as a chemical reagent. Beryllium fluoride is used in refining beryllium and manufacturing beryllium alloys, and as a chemical reagent. Beryllium nitrate is used as a chemical reagent, a gas mantle hardener and in refining beryllium ores.

Sources & Routes of Exposure

Sources of Emission [3]

  • Industry sources: Mining of ores containing beryllium can contribute to higher levels in air, soil and water, i.e. small quantities of beryl are produced as a by-product of feldspar mining at Broken Hill (NSW). Emissions to air can result from combustion of coal and oil in power plants.
  • Diffuse sources: Some hazardous waste sites and tobacco smoke.
  • Natural sources: Pure beryllium is not found in nature. Beryllium compounds can be found in mineral rocks, soil, coal, oil, and volcanic dust.
  • Transport sources: Beryllium emissions are normally not associated with mobile sources.
  • Consumer products: Small quantities can be found in products such as personal computers, televisions, calculators, and microwave ovens.

Routes of Exposure [4]

  • Inhalation – Predominant route of exposure for the general and occupational populations.
  • Oral – Major route of exposure for the general populations.
  • Dermal – Minor route of exposure for general and occupational populations.

Health Effects [5]

Acute Effects

Acute inhalation exposure to high levels of beryllium has been observed to cause inflammation of the lungs and acute pneumonitis (reddening and swelling of the lungs) in humans; after exposure ends, these symptoms may be reversible. Acute animal tests have demonstrated beryllium compounds to vary in acute toxicity, ranging from high to extreme acute toxicity from oral exposure.

Chronic Effects

Chronic occupational exposure of humans to beryllium by inhalation has been reported to cause chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis), in which granulomatous lesions (noncancerous) develop in the lung. The onset of these effects may be delayed by 3 months to more than 20 years. Symptoms of chronic beryllium disease include irritation of the mucous membranes, reduced lung capacity, shortness of breath, fatigue, anorexia, dyspnea, malaise, and weight loss. In addition, chronic inhalation exposure has been observed to cause immunological effects in humans and animals. A skin allergy may result from dermal exposure to beryllium. Eye contact with beryllium dust has been observed to cause acute conjunctivitis in humans. Animal studies have also reported effects on the lung, such as chronic pneumonitis, from chronic inhalation exposure. The Reference Concentration (RfC) for beryllium is 0.00002 milligrams per cubic metre (mg/m3) based on respiratory effects in humans. The Reference Dose (RfD) for beryllium is 0.002 milligrams per kilogram body weight per day (mg/kg/d) based on small intestinal lesions in dogs.

Reproductive/Developmental Effects

The potential for beryllium to induce developmental or reproductive effects has not been adequately assessed. Limited information is available on the reproductive or developmental effects of beryllium in humans following inhalation exposure. A case control study found no association between paternal occupational exposure and the risk of stillbirth, pre-term delivery, or small-for-gestational-age infants, although this study has limited sensitivity. No data are available on reproductive or developmental effects in animals following inhalation.

Cancer Risk

Several human epidemiological studies have investigated the relationship between beryllium exposure in workers and lung cancer deaths. Although there are shortcomings in all the studies, the results are suggestive of a causal relationship between beryllium exposure and an increased risk of lung cancer. Beryllium compounds have been shown to cause lung cancer from inhalation exposure in rats and monkeys. EPA has classified beryllium as a Group B1, probable human carcinogen.

Safety [6]

First Aid Measures

  • Inhalation: Breathing difficulty caused by inhalation of particulate requires immediate removal to fresh air. If breathing has stopped, perform artificial respiration and obtain medical help.
  • Ingestion: Induce vomiting immediately as directed by medical personnel. Never give anything by mouth to an unconscious person.
  • Skin: Thoroughly wash skin cuts or wounds to remove all particulate debris from the wound. Seek medical attention for wounds that cannot be thoroughly cleansed. Treat skin cuts and wounds with standard first air practices such as cleansing, disinfecting and covering to prevent wound infection and contamination before continuing work. Obtain medical help for persistent irritation. Material accidentally implanted or lodged under the skin must be removed.
  • Eyes: Immediately flush eyes with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes, lifting lower and upper eyelids occasionally. Get medical attention immediately.

Treatment of Chronic Beryllium Disease: There is no known treatment that will cure chronic beryllium disease. Prednisone or other corticosteroids are the most specific treatment current available. They are directed at suppressing the immunological reaction and can be effective in diminishing signs and symptoms of chronic beryllium disease. In cases where steroid therapy has had only partial or minimal effectiveness, other immunosuppressive agents, such as cyclophosphamide, cyclosporine, or methotrexate, have been used. These latter agents remain investigational. Further, in view of the potential side effects of all the immunosuppressive medications, including steroids such as prednisone, they should be used only under the direct care of a physician. In general, these medications should be reserved for cases with significant symptoms and/or significant loss of lung function. Other symptomatic treatment, such as oxygen, inhaled steroids, or bronchodilators, may be prescribed by some physicians and can be effective in selected cases.

Exposure Controls & Personal Protection

Exposure Controls

  • Whenever possible, the use of local exhaust ventilation or other engineering controls is the preferred method of controlling exposure to airborne particulate. Where utilised, exhaust inlets to the ventilation system must be positioned as close as possible to the source of airborne generation. Avoid disruption of the airflow in the area of a local exhaust inlet by equipment such as a man-cooling fan. Check ventilation equipment regularly to ensure it is functioning properly. Provide training on the use and operation of ventilation to all users. Use qualified professionals to design and install ventilation systems.
  • Machining operations conducted under a flow of liquid coolant require compete hooded containment and local exhaust ventilation. Openings into the hood must be baffled to prevent release of fast moving particulate. The cycling through a machine of liquid lubricant/coolant containing finely divided beryllium particulate in suspension can result in the concentration building to a point where the particulate may become airborne during use. Prevent coolant from splashing onto floor areas, external structures or operators’ clothing. Utilise a coolant filtering system to remove particulate from the coolant.

Personal Protective Equipment

Respiratory Protection

  • When airborne exposures exceed or have the potential to exceed the occupational limits, approved respirators must be used as specified by an Industrial Hygienist or other qualified professional.
  • Exposure to unknown concentrations of particulate requires the wearing of a pressure-demand airline respirator or pressure-demand self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Use pressure-demand airline respirators when performing jobs with high potential exposures such as changing filters in a baghouse air cleaning device.

Other Protective Equipment

  • Protective overgarments or work clothing must be worn by persons who may become contaminated with particulate during activities such as machining, furnace rebuilding, air cleaning equipment filter changes maintenance, furnace tending, etc.
  • Contaminated work clothing and overgarments must be managed in a controlled manner to prevent secondary exposure to workers of third parties, to prevent the spread of particulate to other areas, and to prevent particulate from being taken home by workers.
  • Wear gloves to prevent contact with particulate or solutions and to prevent metal cuts and skin abrasions during handling.
  • Wear safety glasses, goggles, face shield, or welder’s helmet when risk of eye injury is present, particularly during melting, casting, machining, grinding, welding, powder handling, etc.

Regulation [2,7]

Exposure Limits

United States:

Exposure Limits and Health Effects (Updated September 6, 2012)

<b>StandardSet By</b>


<b><a target="_blank"href=""><u>HealthEffect Codes</u></a> — HealthEffects and Target Organs</b>

OSHA PEL – GeneralIndustry

See <u>29 CFR 1910.1000 Table Z-1</u>

(See also ANSI Z37.29-1970)

0.002 mg/m3TWA

0.005 mg/m3Ceiling

0.025 mg/m3Peak (30 minutes)

HE10 –chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis)

HE11 –pneumonitis

HE14 –beryllium granuloma, contact dermatitis

OSHA PEL – Construction Industry

See <a target="_blank"href=""><u>29CFR 1926.55 Appendix A</u></a>

0.002 mg/m3TWA

HE10 –chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis)

HE11 –pneumonitis

HE14 — berylliumgranuloma, contact dermatitis

OSHA PEL – Shipyard Employment

See <u>29 CFR 1915.1000Table Z-Shipyards</u>

0.002 mg/m3TWA

HE10 –chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis)

HE11 –pneumonitis

HE14 –beryllium granuloma, contact dermatitis


0.0005 mg/m3Ceiling


See <a target="_blank"href=""><u>AppendixA</u></a>

HE2 — lungcancer

HE3 — kidneystones; enlargement of the liver, spleen, and heart; multiple granulomas ofthe lung, spleen, liver, and lymph nodes

HE4 — heartfailure leading to death

HE10 –tracheobronchitis, pneumonitis

HE11 –pulmonary oedema leading to death

HE14 — eye,upper respiratory, and skin irritation; contact dermatitis


0.00005 mg/m3TWA (inhalable particulate matter)


Skin; dermalsensitizer (DSEN); respiratory sensitizer (RSEN)

HE9 –beryllium sensitization

HE10 –chronic beryllium disease (berylliosis)

<u>CAL/OSHA PELs</u>

0.0002 mg/m3TWA

0.025 mg/m3Ceiling

HE9 –beryllium sensitization

HE10 –granulomas of the lung


Safe Work Australia has set an eight-hour time weighted average (TWA) exposure limit for beryllium of 0.002 mg/m3.