Beryllium is a hard, grayish metal found naturally in mineral rocks, in coal, in soil, and in volcanic dust. Beryllium compounds are used in nuclear weapons and reactors, in aircraft and space vehicle parts, in various instruments, in X-ray machines, and in mirrors. Beryllium ores are used in the manufacture of special ceramics for electronic and high-tech devices. Beryllium alloys are used in cars, computers, sports equipment (golf clubs and bike frames), and dental bridges.
How does Beryllium enter the environment?
Beryllium dust enters the air by burning coal and oil. Beryllium powder eventually settles on land and water. It enters the waters from rock and soil erosion as well as industrial waste. Some Beryllium compounds dissolve in water, but most adhere to particles and settle on the bottom. Most Beryllium in the soil does not dissolve in water and remains in the soil. Beryllium does not accumulate in the food chain.
How is one exposed to Beryllium?
- The general population is exposed to naturally low levels of Beryllium present in air, food, and water.
- People working in industries where beryllium is mined, processed, or converted into alloys and other chemicals may be exposed to high levels of Beryllium. People living near these industries may also be exposed to higher than normal Beryllium levels in the air.
- People living near waste disposal sites may be exposed to Beryllium above normal levels.
How can Beryllium affect health?
Beryllium is harmful if inhaled. The results depend on the size and timing of the exposure. If Beryllium levels in the air are high enough, a pneumonia-like acute condition called acute Beryllium disease may occur.
About 1-15% of people who are exposed to Beryllium in the air become susceptible to Beryllium and may develop chronic Beryllium disease (CBD), an inflammatory, irreversible, and sometimes fatal lung injury. Chronic Beryllium disease can be completely asymptomatic or can occur with cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness and fatigue, anorexia, and weight loss.
Ingestion of Beryllium has not been reported to cause effects on humans because very small amounts of Beryllium are absorbed from the stomach and intestine. Beryllium contact with the skin that already has some damage (eg scratches) can cause rashes or ulcers. Long-term exposure to Beryllium can increase the risk of developing lung cancer.
About 35 µg of Beryllium is found in the average human body. Beryllium has a structure similar to Magnesium so it can replace it with some enzymes, leading to malfunction. As Beryllium ions are highly charged and small, they can easily enter many tissues and cells, specifically targeting the nuclei of cells, inhibiting many enzymes, including those used for DNA synthesis. Its toxicity is exacerbated by the fact that the body has no means of controlling Beryllium levels and once it enters the body it cannot be removed.
How can one determine if one has been exposed to Beryllium?
We can measure Beryllium levels in the blood and most biological materials.
Determination of metals is done by ICP-MS (Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry), a method that enables the simultaneous detection of many metals. Its sensitivity and accuracy are significantly better than conventional atomic absorption, with the ability to measure metals at concentrations up to 1 in 1015 (1 in 1 quadrillion, ppq)!
Laboratory test results are the most important parameter for the diagnosis and monitoring of all pathological conditions. 70%-80% of diagnostic decisions are based on laboratory tests. The correct interpretation of laboratory results allows a doctor to distinguish "healthy" from "diseased".
Laboratory test results should not be interpreted from the numerical result of a single analysis. Test results should be interpreted in relation to each individual case and family history, clinical findings, and the results of other laboratory tests and information. Your personal physician should explain the importance of your test results.
At Diagnostiki Athinon we answer any questions you may have about the test you perform in our laboratory and we contact your doctor to get the best possible medical care.