METALS – KNOWN CARCINOGEN (IARC 1)
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).
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.
Beryllium is highly sensitizing, even at very low levels of exposure. 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 subsequent disease development is not 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.
Regulations and Guidelines
|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
|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]|
|ACGIH 2018 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
|Cosmetic Hotlist||Not Permitted||2015|
|Ontario Ambient Air Quality Criteria||24-hour: 0.01 µg/m3(for beryllium and compounds)||2016|
|Health Canada||DSL – high priority substance with lowest potential for exposure||2006|
DSL = domestic substance list
Beryllium metal is 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 useful in consumer goods like automobiles, computers, sports equipment (especially bike frames), and dental bridges. Beryllium oxide is typically used for specialty ceramics in electrical and high-technology applications.
Environmental Exposures Overview
Beryllium is found at low levels geologically in Canada, mostly in northern British Columbia and southern Yukon, as well as the Northwest Territories.
Occupational Exposures Overview
Inhalation is the most important route of occupational exposure. 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. This increase is due to increased use of beryllium in the aircraft, aerospace, nuclear, and electronics industries.
For more information, see the occupational exposure estimate for beryllium.
- Institut de recherche Robert-Sauvé en santé et en Sécurité du travail (IRSST). Speciation and characterization of beryllium dusts (2005) (PDF, French)
- US Geological Survey. Minerals Yearbook: Beryllium (1999) (PDF)
- International Programme on Chemical Safety (IPCS) INCHEM. Concise International Chemical Assessment Document 32: Beryllium and beryllium compounds (2001)
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