Beryllium (chemical symbol: Be), is a relatively rare toxic element. It is an odourless greyish white metal powder that is insoluble in cold water, but slightly soluble in hot water. It has excellent thermal conductivity, is nonmagnetic and also quite brittle at room temperature. Beryllium is a naturally occurring element that is present in rocks, coal, oil, soil, and volcanic dust. Its chemical properties have a resemblance to those of aluminium.
Most beryllium that is mined is converted into alloys as it is very strong but also very lightweight. It is a common component in the aerospace industry (aircraft parts, missiles, spacecrafts, satellites, etc.) for this reason. It is also used in nuclear reactors due to its low thermal neutron absorption as well as in x-ray tubes and equipment due to its transparency.
The routes of exposure for beryllium include; inhalation, ingestion and skin and eye contact.
Inhalation of beryllium may produce severely toxic results that can lead to death. Absorption from the lungs into the blood happens at a faster pace than through ingestion.
Symptoms of inhalation may appear as; anorexia, weight loss, weakness and varying degrees of cyanosis (bluish discoloration of the skin). Those with already compromised respiratory function (conditions such as emphysema or chronic bronchitis), may suffer further disability upon inhalation. People with prior damage to their kidneys, circulatory or nervous systems should be screened prior to handling to reduce the risk of further damage caused by the chemical.
Ingestion of beryllium may result in toxic effects, with animal experiments indicating that the chemical can cause fatality or produce serious damage to the health of the individual.
Skin contact with beryllium can cause irritation, contact dermatitis and ulcers. Entry into the bloodstream through open cuts and wounds can lead to other harmful health effects.
Eye contact may produce irritation and lesions. Repeated or prolonged exposure with the chemical may cause inflammation characterised by redness or temporary vision impairment or other eye damage.
If fumes are inhaled, remove the patient from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. Lay them down and keep them warm and rested. If the patient is not breathing and you are qualified to do so, perform CPR. Seek medical attention without delay.
If swallowed, give the patient 3 tablespoons of activated charcoal in a glass of water to drink. Vomiting may be recommended but is usually dissuaded due to the risk of aspiration. If vomiting is induced, lean the patient forward or place them on their left side to maintain open airways and prevent aspiration. Seek medical attention without delay.
If skin exposure occurs, immediately remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories and cleanse the affected area with plenty of soap and water. Seek medical attention in the event of irritation.
If the chemical is exposed to the eyes, flush the eyes out immediately with fresh running water for at least 15 minutes, remembering to wash under the eyelids. Do not attempt to remove particles attached or embedded in the eye. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by a skilled individual. Seek medical attention without delay.
Emergency eyewash fountains and safety showers should be accessible in the immediate area of the potential exposure to the chemical and adequate ventilation should be available (install local exhaust if necessary).
The PPE recommended when handling beryllium includes; safety glasses with side shields, chemical goggles, gloves (thickness >0.35mm), respirators, protective suits and boots. Some plastic PPE such as gloves and aprons are not recommended as they may produce static electricity.
Refer to your Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for more comprehensive information on the safe handling of beryllium. Find out more about our free trial of our SDS management software here.