Estimating historical exposures of workers in a beryllium manufacturing plant

Am J Ind Med. 2001 Feb;39(2):145-57. doi: 10.1002/1097-0274(200102)39:2<145::aid-ajim1002>;2-y.


Background: Beryllium is known to be toxic to the lungs, causing beryllium lung disease and associated with increased lung cancer risk. Airborne beryllium exposures have been monitored since the 1940s. This study describes methods used to measure airborne beryllium concentrations and how historical measurements from a beryllium manufacturing plant were used to estimate workers' exposures in a lung cancer case-control study.

Methods: Airborne beryllium concentrations had been measured using all-glass impingers, high-volume air filters, and personal respirable and total dust samplers. To provide consistency in exposure estimates over time, measurements collected by the other monitoring methods were converted to approximate the most frequently used high-volume, time-weighted average measurements. Because industrial hygiene measurements were not collected in every year for all jobs throughout the duration of the case-control study, exposure estimates had to be extrapolated from the existing measurements over time and across jobs.

Results: Over 7,000 historical measurements were available to estimate beryllium exposures of workers over time. Average exposures between jobs varied considerably and exposures for all jobs decreased dramatically between the 1940s and 1970s due to major plant production changes.

Conclusions: Although error in the exposure metrics for the cases and controls likely occurred due to limitations of the exposure assessment data, the exposure estimates for each job over time provided a reasonable, objective mechanism for categorizing workers by the relative exposures they were likely to have encountered during their tenure. Published 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / adverse effects*
  • Beryllium / adverse effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Dust / adverse effects
  • Dust / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects
  • Occupational Exposure / analysis*
  • Occupations
  • Pennsylvania / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Protective Devices
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Dust
  • Beryllium