Beryllium (chemical symbol Be) is a silver-gray coloured metallic element that occurs naturally at low concentrations in the earth's crust. Two kinds of beryllium minerals are mined commercially, bertrandite and beryl (of which emeralds are a type).
Beryllium and its compounds have been classified by IARC as Group 1 agent, carcinogenic to humans, with a well-established link to lung cancer.[3,5, ] A recent review of Class 1 carcinogens by IARC reaffirmed this classification.
Beryllium is highly sensitizing, even at very low levels of exposure in susceptible individuals. Exposure can cause acute beryllium disease (ABD) and chronic beryllium disease (CBD). ABD is a condition that resembles pneumonia. It can occur after short-term, high levels of exposure to beryllium (>1 mg/m3). CBD is an inflammatory lung disease that causes fibrosis. The relationship between sensitization to beryllium and the subsequent development of disease is not yet fully understood. In addition, there is no known lower limit for beryllium sensitization and development of CBD. Dermal contact can also lead to an allergic response.
stel = short term exposure limit (15 min. maximum)
Canadian Environmental Guidelines
Beryllium and its compounds were not included in the Canadian environmental guidelines reviewed.[6-9]
DSL – high priority substance with lowest potential for exposure
Beryllium was not included in other Canadian government chemical listings reviewed.[11-12]
Beryllium metal can be used in aircraft/satellite structures, x-ray transmission windows, spacecraft instrumentation, nuclear weapons, mirrors, and computer and audio components. In alloys, beryllium increases strength as well as thermal and electrical conductivity, making it a candidate for use in consumer goods like automobiles, computers, sports equipment (especially bike frames), and dental bridges.[4,13] Beryllium oxide is typically used for specialty ceramics in electrical and high-technology applications.
Canadian Production and Trade
Emeralds are a type of mineral beryl. The recent discovery of emeralds in British Columbia indicates several prospects for future beryllium mining in Canada.
Production and Trade
Export: Mainly to China
6 t of 'beryllium and articles thereof'
Import: Mainly from US
17 t of 'beryllium and articles thereof'
Inhalation is the most important route of occupational exposure. The main occupations exposed include workers involved in beryllium mining, beryllium alloy production, metal products and related manufacturing, nuclear reactor operation, and electric and electronic equipment production. Other occupations at risk include metal welders, grinders, sandblasters, machinists, dental workers, and jewellers.
Although only a small number of workers are exposed to high levels worldwide, the number of workers exposed to low levels is increasing. This increase is due to increased use of beryllium in the aircraft, aerospace, nuclear, and electronic industries.
Sources of environmental exposure include the burning of coal and fuel oil. Residual beryllium left on work garments may also lead to exposures in the home.
Beryllium is found at low levels geologically in Canada, mostly in northern BC and southern Yukon, as well as the Northwest Territories.
Beryllium was not included in the National Pollutant Release Inventory or the Household Products Database.[19-20]
Our team has performed a detailed scan of exposure control resources and assembled a compilation of key publications and resources. These are organized by type of exposure (environmental or occupational) and by specificity (general or carcinogen-specific). Please visit our Exposures Reduction Resources page to view.
We also recommend exploring the Prevention Policies Directory, a freely-accessible online tool offering information on policies related to cancer and chronic disease prevention. Providing summaries of the policies and direct access to the policy documents, the Directory allows users to search by carcinogen, risk factor, jurisdiction, geographical location, and document type. To learn more about policies specific to beryllium on the Directory, click here. For questions about this resource, please contact Michelle Halligan, from the prevention team at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer.
Henneberger PK, Goe SK, Miller WE, Doney B, Groce DW. 2004. 'Industries in the United States with airborne beryllium exposure and estimates of the number of current workers potentially exposed.' JOEH, 1(10):648-659