March 3, 2022

New Draft Toxicological Profile Focuses on Beryllium

A new draft toxicological profile for beryllium is now available for review and public comment from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Beryllium is a metal that is used in many applications in the defense, aerospace, nuclear, telecommunications, and medical industries. OSHA estimates that 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in more than 7,000 workplaces in the United States. Workers in the beryllium manufacturing, fabricating, or reclaiming industries are at high risk of exposure to the metal, and most beryllium exposures occur in the workplace, according to an ATSDR information sheet. The agency stresses the importance of following health and safety guidelines and wearing personal protective equipment when working with beryllium.

Beryllium sensitization, an immune response that can lead to serious health problems; chronic beryllium disease (CBD), a lung disease caused by inhaling airborne beryllium; and lung cancer are common adverse health effects associated with beryllium exposure. Symptoms of CBD can include shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists beryllium as a Group 1 carcinogen, the agency’s designation for agents that carry sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in humans (PDF). The National Toxicology Program lists beryllium and beryllium compounds as “known to be human carcinogens” (PDF).

The draft toxicological profile for beryllium is available for download from the ATSDR website. New draft toxicological profiles for chlorodibenzofurans, a family of chemicals; chloromethane, also known as methyl chloride; 1,2-dichloroethane, which is primarily used in the manufacture of plastic and vinyl products; the flammable, colorless liquid methyl tert-butyl ether; and n-nitrosodimethylamine, a chemical now made in small amounts for research purposes only, are also available. Comments on the draft profiles are due by May 23.

ATSDR toxicological profiles characterize the toxicology and adverse health effects information for hazardous substances. The peer-reviewed profiles identify and review the key literature describing substances’ toxicological properties. Information on substances’ potential for human exposure; chemical and physical properties; regulations and guidelines; and production, import, use, and disposal can also be found in ATSDR’s toxicological profiles. A full list of toxic substances with published profiles is available on the agency’s website.

Related: Read “The Riddles of Beryllium: A Short History of a Challenging Workplace Hazard” in the October 2021 issue of The Synergist.