Los Alamos and Beryllium Exposure

Los Alamos National Laboratory has warned that as many as 2,000 employees and visitors to the lab may have been exposed to beryllium. According to OSHA, exposure to beryllium by inhalation of beryllium dust or fumes can cause serious damage to the lungs, lung cancer, and may be fatal.
Berylliums is a natural metal found in beryl and bertrandite rock. It is very lightweight and hard. It serves as a good conductor of electricity and heat.
According to OSHA, “Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) primarily affects the lungs. CBD may occur among people who are exposed to the dust or fumes from beryllium metal, metal oxides, alloys, ceramics or salts. It occurs when people inhale beryllium in these forms. CBD usually has a very slow onset, and even very small amounts of exposure to beryllium can cause the disease in some people. In some cases, CBD develops while workers are still on the job, but in others it may not develop until many years after a person has stopped working in the beryllium industry, or has been transferred to a job that does not involve beryllium exposure. The amount or length of exposure to beryllium necessary to cause a specific individual to develop CBD is not known, but recent information suggests that exposure below OSHA’s 2 micrograms/m3 TWA PEL over a very short time (weeks or months) can lead to CBD in some workers.”
Symptoms may include: unexplained cough, shortness of breath, especially with activity; fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever, or night sweats. The disease may develop slowly over a period of years and many of those affected may be carrying it without their knowledge.
The Los Alamos beryllium exposure concern first surfaced in November when a box containing beryllium was delivered to the Los Alamos plant. The box appeared damaged so officials at the lab tested the area for contamination. The area was found to have beryllium contamination but the source of the contamination was not the box. The lab had not been tested for beryllium exposure since 2001 so Los Alamos officials have sent warning letters to anyone who worked there since or visited the lab since 2001.