A beryllium mine in Utah. Photo courtesy of NASA.
NIOSH has just issued an alert to workers exposed to beryllium in a variety of industries, calling for more study of its affects on workers and claiming that adverse reactions have been displayed in workers exposed to levels lower than the maximum permissible limit defined by OSHA. The alert suggests that a safe level of exposure to the chemical has yet to be determined.
Workers have been studied who were exposed to beryllium dust, fumes, or mists -- it is both a respiratory and a skin hazard -- in industries including nuclear weapons production, ceramics, mining, ore milling, precision machining, construction, and aluminum smelting, according to the document.
"Workers in various sectors of the beryllium industry are at risk of developing serious respiratory disease following exposure to beryllium," it states. "More action is needed to (1) identify workers exposed to beryllium who may not know that they are exposed, (2) improve protective measures for exposed workers, (3) reduce/minimize both overall exposures and, when possible, the number of exposed workers, (4) educate workers about the hazards of working with beryllium, (5) determine the characteristics of exposures (e.g., particle size, shape, surface area, and chemical form) that are associated with increased risk, and (6) identify industrial and occupational sectors that use beryllium and target them for prevention efforts."
The alert to workers, published in English and Spanish, can be read here.