Beryllium is a metal that is stronger than steel, lighter than aluminum, and an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, properties that make it an ideal material. Beryllium is essential in many industries, most notably utilized by the U.S. Department of Defense, and it is classified as a critical material used in weaponry, shipbuilding, and aircrafts.
Beryllium is used as a pure metal, an oxide, or an alloy combined with copper, aluminum, magnesium, or nickel. In a solid metal state, beryllium is safe, however, when it is being altered, the dust and fumes are unsafe and can lead to lung disease.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 62,000 workers are potentially exposed to beryllium in approximately 7,300 establishments in the United States. Common industries and occupations with risk of beryllium exposure include:
Though beryllium exposure is higher for workers, family members are also often exposed through workers’ clothing and other items that may also be contaminated. Those who work in beryllium manufacturing, alloy production, and recycling industries receive the highest amount of exposure.
Inhaling or contacting beryllium creates an immune response that causes individuals to become more sensitive to the substance. Beryllium sensitization puts workers at a higher risk of developing a debilitating lung disease known as chronic beryllium disease (CBD) or lung cancer. Not all who are exposed to beryllium become sensitized, and only those who have become sensitive are at risk of developing CBD.
There are little to no symptoms in the initial stages of CBD, but over time, the lungs become inflamed and develop granulomas that begin scarring the lungs, reducing their ability to function properly. There is no cure for CBD, but the symptoms can be treated. Symptoms of CBD include:
Eliminating exposure to beryllium is the most effective way to reduce exposure, though that is not often possible for many workers. Employers are required to implement protective measures per OSHA’s beryllium standards for general industry, shipyards, and construction workplaces, such as:
To lessen family exposure, workers should wear work-owned uniforms and shoes rather than personal ones and leave them at the workplace, along with showering before leaving work. Those who have a disease from exposure may have the legal right to file a toxic tort claim.
Beryllium exposure can lead to chronic lung and breathing problems in many workers. If you have been diagnosed with a form of beryllium disease, our Wilmington environmental lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. can help. Call us today at 302-656-5445 or contact us online to schedule a consultation. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we represent clients in Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.