Many industries use a valuable and extremely useful metal called beryllium because of its unique characteristics. It is used in the manufacture of nuclear weapons and in commercial applications such as electronic components and assemblies, home electrical appliances, sporting goods, dental products, as well as the aerospace and automotive industries. However commercial use of beryllium creates problems due to its toxicity. Many people who work in these industries and their families may be at risk for exposure to beryllium dust and fumes.
Beryllium is a natural element listed on the periodic table as Be, element number 4. It has numerous isotopes but only one is stable. In the workplace, beryllium can be found as a pure metal in both solid and powder form, as an alloy (a comination of metals) such as beryllium copper, or in other compounds. It is primarily used as a hardening agent. By itself, beryllium is brittle.
Beryllium dust and fumes are toxic and inhaling them can cause the serious illness Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD).
While many workers may be exposed to beryllium, only some develop allergy (sensitization) and disease. Exposure to beryllium dust and fumes can occur when beryllium products are machined, ground, polished, sanded, heated or when beryllium powder is hot pressed.
A person who works with or around others who use beryllium is also at risk for taking home beryllium dust that has accumulated on clothing, or in hair or beards.