Where is Beryllium found?
Beryllium is a metal that is used in the manufacturing of products like cars, golf clubs and computers, manufacture of thermal coating, nuclear reactors, rocket heat shields, brakes, x-ray tubes, and dental plates. It is found in some dental crowns and dental plates, but exposure to the dust is highest during the manufacturer so those working in dental laboratories may be exposed.
What is beryllium disease?
Beryllium-induced lung disease can occur when beryllium dust or fumes are inhaled. 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 (BeS) 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.
According to NIOSH (the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2011), “workers exposed to particles, fumes, mists and solutions from beryllium-containing materials may develop beryllium sensitization or chronic beryllium disease, a potentially disabling or even fatal respiratory disease.” Depending on how workers are exposed, the diseases can affect different tissues and organs. Breathing in fumes or dusts of beryllium compounds may injure the lungs. While most commonly associated with diseases of the lungs, beryllium may also affect such organs as the liver, kidneys, heart, nervous system, and the lymphatic system.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that “sensitization has been found in one to ten percent of workers in cross-sectional studies, with chronic beryllium disease diagnosed in ten to 100 percent of the sensitized”. This statement means that between 1 to 10% of workers who work with beryllium may become sensitized. Of those workers who become sensitized, 10% or all may later develop chronic beryllium disease. Another study stated that on average, 1 to 6% of exposed workers may develop sensitivity, but it may be as high as 16% in workplaces with high exposure levels.
How can it be diagnosed?
A blood test called beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT) can measure how blood cells react to beryllium. This test can be used for medical surveillance programs. NIOSH states that “it is believed that a person must first be sensitized before beryllium in the lungs can cause the lung damage (called granulomas) of chronic beryllium disease. However, the overall proportion of all sensitized individuals who will eventually develop chronic beryllium disease is not known.”
MELISA is involved with a working group that aims to bring standardised beryllium sensitivity testing to Europe to allow exposed workers to be tested for hypersensitivity.
Links for the specification for testing for Beryllium hypersensitivity can be found HERE.