If you are employed in an industry that processes beryllium, it is important to monitor your health and the health of everyone in your household. Beryllium can cause serious health implications, even to those who come in contact with beryllium compounds through secondhand contact. Here’s what you need to know.
Industries that process beryllium
Beryllium is a natural metal that is used in various industries, including aerospace, computers, mining, metal fabrication and refining, and dental laboratories. Beryllium is strong yet lightweight metal which has a high melting point. Processing beryllium is done by using various methods depending on the nature of the work at hand, including sanding, grinding, melting, and welding. When beryllium is processed, it can produce a mist, fumes, and dust that are highly toxic.
Health risks of beryllium
The highly toxic compounds can easily get into the lungs of anyone working with the material or nearby. Inside the lungs, beryllium causes damage with symptoms similar to pneumonia. Prolonged exposure to beryllium can cause the body to become sensitive to the compound, which can lead to the development of an immune system reaction. This reaction can cause white blood cells to encapsulate the beryllium compounds in the lung and produce granuloma. This is known as chronic beryllium disease. The skin can also be adversely affected, causing allergic dermatitis with a rash of small, red bumps that are raised.
Secondhand exposure of beryllium
When processing and working with beryllium, it can get on your clothing, shoes, skin, and hair. Sitting in your vehicle after work can deposit some of the beryllium into your vehicle. Arriving at home after work can introduce beryllium into your home. Your family members and other household members could be at risk of developing health problems through any secondhand contact with beryllium. For this reason, it is crucial to change your clothing at work to reduce the amount of beryllium that can be transferred to your vehicle and home. To further decrease the risks, wash your hair, body, and clothing outside of the home, and do not take tools or other items from your employment into your vehicle or to your home.
Monitor your health and the health of your household members
Due to the risks involved when working with beryllium, it is important to monitor your health and the health of every member of your household. You’ll need to look for signs of lung problems, such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, pneumonia-like symptoms, wheezing, weight loss, bloody sputum, cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, night sweats, swollen ankles and feet, and/or skin rashes. It’s highly advisable for you and your household members to seek medical care from one primary care physician, such as a family doctor.
When everyone sees the same doctor, he or she will be able to assess everyone’s health compared to other household members and develop a family history based on those assessments. The doctor will likely recommend routine medical evaluations to determine whether or not beryllium presents a problem to your household. This is done through testing samples of blood, urine, and skin as well lung imaging. These tests aren’t typically as common as other tests such as for strep throat, but a family doctor can send samples out to an appropriate laboratory for testing.
Compensation for beryllium exposure extends to household members
Of course, the health risks of beryllium are covered by worker’s compensation insurance for you, the employee, but your household members may also be covered. The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that employers can be held liable for secondhand exposure through household contact. If a case becomes necessary, the routine medical evaluations by your family doctor can help prove any beryllium-related illnesses due to the contamination of beryllium in your home.