Beryllium is a type of metal that is strong, lightweight, brittle, and steel gray in color. It can be found in oil, coal, some rock minerals, volcanic dust, and soil. Breathing high levels of beryllium dust and particles can cause cancer, chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and other health problems. Exposure to beryllium usually occurs in workers in certain industries or in people who live or work near factories or plants that emit beryllium dust.
In recent years, an increasing number of legal claims have been filed alleging that people have died or suffered serious health problems due to beryllium exposure. This article discusses how people can be exposed to beryllium, the health risks linked to beryllium, and the various ways people can get compensated for illnesses caused by beryllium. (To learn about lawsuits arising from other chemicals or drugs, see Nolo's article Toxic Torts Overview.)
Beryllium is an effective hardening agent in metal alloys like beryllium copper. Because it is lightweight, strong, and flexible, beryllium and beryllium compounds are used -- alone or in combination with other metals -- in many industries, including:
Prior to 1951, beryllium was used to make fluorescent lights, but that practice was discontinued after many workers got sick from beryllium exposure.
Because of the known health problems associated with beryllium exposure and its use in many industries, government agencies have adopted beryllium release standards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restricts the amount of beryllium that industries may release into the outside air, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) restricts the amount of beryllium that may be released into workplace air.
One independent organization of experts, the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH), believes that current OSHA standards are not safe and recommends minimum release levels that are much lower than OSHA's numbers. The ACGIH urges employers and employees to minimize the use of beryllium and to take proactive steps to reduce workplace exposure. Get more information from the ACGIH's website at www.acgih.org/home.htm.
Inhalation of beryllium at higher than normal levels can cause a number of health problems.
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