Beryllium Profile


CAS No. 7440-41-7
IARC Monograph Vol. 58, 1993 (Group 1)
IARC Monograph Vol 100C, 2012 (Group 1)

Beryllium Profile

General Information

Beryllium (chemical symbol Be) is a silver-gray coloured metallic element that occurs naturally at low concentrations in the earth’s crust.[1,2] Two kinds of beryllium minerals are mined commercially, bertrandite and beryl (of which emeralds are a type).[3]

Beryllium and its compounds have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 agents, carcinogenic to humans, with a well-established link to lung cancer.[2,4] The 2012 review of Class 1 carcinogens by IARC reaffirmed this classification.[5]

Beryllium is highly sensitizing, even at very low levels of exposure. Exposure can cause acute beryllium disease (ABD) and chronic beryllium disease (CBD).[3] ABD is a condition that resembles pneumonia. It can occur after short-term, high levels of exposure to beryllium (>1 mg/m3).[3] CBD is an inflammatory lung disease that causes fibrosis. The relationship between sensitization to beryllium and subsequent disease development is not fully understood. In addition, there is no known lower limit for beryllium sensitization and development of CBD.[3] Dermal contact can also lead to an allergic response.[3]

Regulations and Guidelines

Occupational exposure limits (OEL) [6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20]

Canadian Jurisdictions Substance OEL (mg/m3)
Canada Labour Code Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.00005 [i, sk, dsen, rsen]
AB, NB, NT. NU, SK Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.002
0.01 [stel]
BC, MB, NB, NL, NS, PE Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.00005 [i, sk, dsen, rsen]
ON Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.00005 [i] [sk, for soluble compounds only]
QC Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.00015 [sen, em]
YT Beryllium 0.002
Other Jurisdictions Substance OEL
ACGIH 2020 TLV Beryllium and compounds, as Be 0.00005 [i, sk, sen]
mg/m3 = milligrams per cubic meter
sk = easily absorbed through the skin
dsen = dermal sensitization
rsen = respiratory sensitization
sen = potential for sensitization
i = inhalable fraction
stel = short term exposure limit (15 min. maximum)
em = exposure must be reduced to the minimum
ACGIH = American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists
TLV = threshold limit value

Canadian environmental guidelines and standards*

Jurisdiction Limit Year
Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist Not Permitted 2015[21]
Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria 24-hour: 0.01 µg/m3 (for beryllium and compounds) 2016[22]
Ontario’s Air Pollution – Local Air Quality Regulation 24-hour standard: 0.01 µg/m3; Prohibited discharge into the air if the concentration of beryllium exceeds the standard 2020[23]
Quebec’s Clean Air Regulation 1 year limit: 0.0004 µg/m3; Prohibited discharge into the air if the concentration of beryllium exceeds the standard 2011[24]
BC’s Contaminated Sites Regulation, BC Reg 375/96 Sets soil standards for the protection of human health:
Agricultural and low density residential sites: 85 μg/g
Urban park and high density residential sites: 150 μg/g
Commercial sites: 500 μg/g
Industrial sites: 15,000 μg/g


Drinking water: 8 µg/L

*Standards are legislated and legally enforceable, while guidelines (including Ontario ambient air quality criteria) describe concentrations of contaminants in the environment (e.g. air, water) that are protective against adverse health, environmental, or aesthetic (e.g. odour) effects

Canadian agencies/organizations

Agency Designation/Position Year
Health Canada DSL – high priority substance with lowest potential for exposure 2006[26]
National Classification System for Contaminated Sites Rank: “High hazard” 2008[27]
PMRA List of formulants List 4B: List 4B contains formulants, some of which may be toxic, for which there are sufficient data to reasonably conclude that the specific use pattern of the pest control product will not adversely affect public health and the environment. 2020[28]
DSL = domestic substance list

Beryllium was not included in other Canadian government guidelines, standards, or chemical listings reviewed.

Main Uses

Beryllium metal is used in aircraft/satellite structures, x-ray transmission windows, spacecraft instrumentation, nuclear weapons, mirrors, and computer and audio components.[1] In alloys, beryllium increases strength as well as thermal and electrical conductivity,[1] making it useful in consumer goods like automobiles, computers, sports equipment (especially bike frames), and dental bridges.[3] Beryllium oxide is typically used for specialty ceramics in electrical and high-technology applications.[3]

Canadian Production and Trade

Production and trade

Activity Quantity Year
Export: Mainly to US 2 t of ‘beryllium and articles thereof’ 2016[29]
Import: Mainly from US 19 t of ‘beryllium and articles thereof’ 2016[29]
t = tonne

Environmental Exposures Overview

Sources of environmental exposure to beryllium include burning coal[2] and fuel oil.[3] Residual beryllium left on work garments may also lead to exposures in the home.[1]

Beryllium is found at low levels geologically in Canada, mostly in northern British Columbia and southern Yukon, as well as the Northwest Territories.[30]

Beryllium was not included in the National Pollutant Release Inventory or the Household Products Database.[31,32]

Occupational Exposures Overview

Inhalation is the most important route of occupational exposure.[1] CAREX Canada estimates that approximately 3,900 Canadians are exposed to beryllium in their workplace. The largest industrial groups exposed are building equipment contractors and manufacturers of medical equipment and supplies. Other important industries where beryllium exposure occurs are residential building construction and automotive parts manufacturing and repair. The primary occupational groups exposed are construction trades helpers, welders, electricians, and dental technologists.

Additional groups that may also be exposed include workers involved in beryllium alloy production, metals and related products manufacturing, nuclear reactor operation, and electric and electronic equipment production.

Although only a small number of workers are exposed to high levels worldwide, the number of workers exposed to low levels is increasing.[2] This increase is due to increased use of beryllium in the aircraft, aerospace, nuclear, and electronics industries.[2]

For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for beryllium.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons, Theodore W. Gray

1. National Toxicology Program (NTP). 14th report on carcinogens for Beryllium and Beryllium Compounds (2016) (PDF)
2. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monograph summary, Volume 58 (1993) (PDF)
3. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological Profile for beryllium (2002) (PDF)
4. Henneberger PK, Goe SK, Miller WE, Doney B, Groce DW. “Industries in the United States with airborne beryllium exposure and estimates of the number of current workers potentially exposed.” J Occup Environ Hyg 2004;1(10):648-659.
5. International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Monograph summary, Volume 100C (2012) (PDF)
11. Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Regulation 5,12 Occupational Health and Safety Regulations (2018)
12. Government of the Northwest Territories. Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, R-039-2015 (2020) (PDF)
14. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Government of Nunavut’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, Nu Reg 003-2016 (2010)
16. Government of Prince Edward Island. Occupational Health and Safety Act Regulations Chapter 0-1 (2013) (PDF)
18. Government of Saskatchewan. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, 1996 (2016) (PDF)
19. The Canadian Legal Information Institute (CanLII). Yukon’s Occupational Health Regulations, O.I.C. 1986/164 (2020) (PDF)
20. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Annotated PELs (2020)
21. Health Canada. Cosmetic Ingredient Hotlist (2019)
22. Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Ontario’s Ambient Air Quality Criteria (2019)
24. Government of Quebec. Clean Air Regulation, Q-2, r. 4.1 (2020)
25. Government of British Columbia. Contaminated Sites Regulation B.C. Reg. 375/96 (2019)
27. Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. National Classification System for Contaminated Sites (PDF) (2008)
29. International Trade Centre. TradeMap (Free subscription required)
30. Groat, LA, Hart C, Lewis LL, Neufeld H. “Emerald and aquamarine mineralization in Canada.” Geoscience Canada, 2005;32(2):65-76.
31. Environment and Climate Change Canada. National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) Facility Search (Substance name: ‘Beryllium’)
32. US Household Products Database (HPD). Household Products (Search term: ‘Beryllium’)


Other Resources

  1. Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en Sécurité du travail (IRSST). Speciation and characterization of beryllium dusts (2005) (PDF, French)
  2. US Geological Survey. Minerals Yearbook: Beryllium (1999) (PDF)
  3. International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) INCHEM. Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 32: Beryllium and beryllium compounds (2001)

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