What are the Dangers of Beryllium Exposure?

What is beryllium and why does it pose such a serious health risks to workers that the federal government has stepped in to limit exposure to it?

Beryllium is an element that's used to make metals stronger and lighter. Numerous industries incorporate it in their manufacturing, including:

  • Nuclear
  • Computers and other electronics
  • Plastic molding
  • Dental plates
  • Ceramics
  • Aircraft parts
  • Sporting goods

However, it has long been considered dangerous. It's widely accepted that anyone that suffers enough direct or indirect exposure to particles, dust, fumes and other variations of beryllium faces potentially life-threatening consequences, including lung cancer.

Chronic Beryllium Disease may be Slow to Develop

One dangerous outcome is called chronic beryllium disease and it affects the lungs and potentially other vital organs. Symptoms of chronic beryllium disease include coughing, chest pain, labored breathing, and a feeling of weakness. A person with the disease may also experience kidney stones as well as an enlarged liver or spleen.

The symptoms may not appear for many years. In this way and several others, chronic beryllium disease is much like mesothelioma, which is a form of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.

There is no cure for chronic beryllium disease.

What has been in dispute for many years is at what level does exposure to beryllium become seriously dangerous to workers. The U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration first set a standard for worker exposure to beryllium in 1971. Thanks to industry opposition and lobbying, it has not changed since.

Thousands of U.S. Workers Exposed to Beryllium

In 2001, the nonprofit group Public Citizen petitioned OSHA to lower the permissible worker exposure limit to beryllium. That effort went nowhere - until just recently.

In August 2015, OSHA announced a proposed new rule to lower allowable U.S. worker exposure to beryllium. The standard will replace the original one established over 40 years ago and, according to OSHA, could prevent up to 100 deaths from chronic beryllium disease and lung cancer each year.

OSHA says the new rule would provide protection to 35,000 U.S. workers. However, it does not include workers who get exposure to very small amounts of beryllium in raw materials, such as workers at coal-burning power plants. The worker safety rule can't be formally adopted until the period for public comments ends on November 19, 2015.

If passed, the new beryllium exposure standard is a boost to worker safety. But it won't help the thousands of people who face grave health issues due to previous exposure to the known workplace danger.

Like victims of mesothelioma, those who suffer from chronic beryllium disease or any catastrophic workplace danger may want to consult with an attorney experienced in catastrophic injury and wrongful death lawsuits to review their legal rights to fair and just compensation.

The choice of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising.

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