What is beryllium?
Beryllium is the fourth element on the periodic chart and is the second lightest metal known. Beryllium is arguably the most toxic element known to man. Beryllium can be found in coal slag and is often used as an alloy in copper. Because of it advantageous properties, beryllium has been used in a variety of ways, including:
- As a component for missiles, aircraft, satellites and other defense department initiatives
- In x-ray equipment
- As an alloy for metals (including precious metals) and steels (particularly in copper and copper scrap recycling)
- In the manufacture of electronic and microelectronic appliances, including semiconductor devices, integrated circuits, springs, switches, relays, and connectors in computers, radar, automobiles, and telecommunication equipment (including cell phones and other smart devices)
- In high-performance car engines
- In high-end audio speakers and equipment
- Ceramics manufacturing
- As a component for mirrors, including in specialized telescopes
- Fuel fabrication for nuclear reactors
What makes beryllium so dangerous to humans?
For a segment of the population, exposure to beryllium can lead to a dreadful disease known as berylliosis. Berylliosis (also called chronic beryllium disease) is a chronic allergic-type lung response and chronic lung disease can cause granulomas in the lungs, and in some cases, also in the liver, spleen and myocardium. In addition, the disease can cause skin nodules, contact dermatitis, and poor wound healing.
The chronic form of berylliosis develops along with symptoms of dyspnea or exertion, cough, fatigue, chest pain, weight loss, night sweats, fever and anorexia. At an advanced stage and in some cases, berylliosis can completely disable a person’s lungs, where death can occur if a lung transplant is not available.
How is berylliosis diagnosed?
In some cases, the effects of beryllium can be felt almost immediately while in others it may take months or years for a beryllium-related ailment to occur. In order to be diagnosed with berylliosis, three primary factors are oftentimes taken into account:
- Exposure to beryllium
- Positive BeLPT (beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test) blood test, which establishes that an allergic sensitivity to beryllium exists
- Granulomas in the lungs
In addition, beryllium is oftentimes misdiagnosed as either chronic or acute hypersensitivity pneumonitis or sacrcoidosis, as well as other granuloma formation disorders. If you believe you were exposed to beryllium or a beryllium-containing product and you develop symptoms that are similar to berylliosis, you should ask for a BeLPT test in order to confirm whether you are sensitive to beryllium.
How might I be exposed to beryllium?
NIOSH estimates 134,000 workers in the government and within the private industry are exposed to beryllium each year. Anyone that works in a facility that uses beryllium in its manufacturing process could be at risk to develop a beryllium-related disease, as the exposure needed to cause an illness can be very low.
Originally, inhalation of beryllium dust or fumes was thought to be the only route of exposure, but new studies are showing that skin exposure to beryllium can also cause berylliosis. Below is a listing of some of the ways a person can come in contact with beryllium:
- Working in a facility where beryllium is alloyed or used
- Working with beryllium-alloyed metals, including steel and copper (working with could mean smelting, cutting, soldering, alloying, shaping, etc.)
- Manufacture of or serving as a technician for various electronic devices, including:
- X-ray equipment
- Semiconductor devices
- Integrated circuits
- Connectors in Computers
- Telecommunications Equipment (including cell phones and other smart devices)
- Manufacture of golf clubs containing beryllium copper (often noted as BeCu golf clubs)
- Manufacture of ceramics
- Refurbishment of products containing beryllium or beryllium copper
- Manufacture or maintenance of missiles, aircraft, satellites and other defense contractor components containing beryllium
- Working in the atomic energy sector
In addition, it is conceivable children could ingest a product or product parts containing beryllium, and thus develop a beryllium-related illness.
What Should I Do?
Besides speaking with your doctor about treatment options, you should contact a lawyer immediately to understand your legal rights. Depending on where you live, the statute of limitations could be a real threat to your case. If you or a loved one was exposed to beryllium and either died from or has been diagnosed with berylliosis (including either acute or chronic beryllium disease), sarcoidosis, or permanent lung scarring / lung failure, please contact a Beasley Allen attorney for a complementary, no-cost consultation to learn your legal rights. Fill out the contact form on this site, or call us toll-free at +800-898-2034.