September 21, 2023

Final Toxicological Profile Published for Beryllium

A new final toxicological profile for beryllium is available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Beryllium is a metal that is used in applications in the defense, aerospace, and electronics industries as well as in the medical and dental fields. 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 significant 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. According to OSHA, symptoms of CBD can include shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, fever, and night sweats. Another potential health effect associated with exposure to beryllium is acute beryllium disease, which OSHA describes as “a rapid onset form of chemical pneumonia that results from breathing high airborne concentrations” of the substance. But inhalation is not the only exposure route of concern, as skin contact with beryllium may also lead to sensitization.

“Workers exposed to beryllium are at risk for developing acute beryllium disease and sensitized people are at risk for developing chronic beryllium disease,” ATSDR explains.

New final toxicological profiles are also available for chloromethane, also known as methyl chloride, and the flammable, colorless liquid methyl tert-butyl ether, or MTBE.

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.