Potential exposures and risks from beryllium-containing products

Risk Anal. 2002 Oct;22(5):1019-33. doi: 10.1111/1539-6924.00267.


Beryllium is the strongest of the lightweight metals. Used primarily in military applications prior to the end of the Cold War, beryllium is finding new applications in many commercial products, including computers, telecommunication equipment, and consumer and automotive electronics. The use of beryllium in nondefense consumer applications is of concern because beryllium is toxic. Inhalation of beryllium dust or vapor causes a chronic lung disease in some individuals at concentrations as low as 0.01 microg/m3 in air. As beryllium enters wider commerce, it is prudent to ask what risks this might present to the general public and to workers downstream of the beryllium materials industry. We address this question by evaluating the potential for beryllium exposure from the manufacturing, use, recycle, and disposal of beryllium-containing products. Combining a market study with a qualitative exposure analysis, we determine which beryllium applications and life cycle phases have the largest exposure potential. Our analysis suggests that use and maintenance of the most common types of beryllium-containing products do not result in any obvious exposures of concern, and that maintenance activities result in greater exposures than product use. Product disposal has potential to present significant individual risks, but uncertainties concerning current and future routes of product disposal make it difficult to be definitive. Overall, additional exposure and dose-response data are needed to evaluate both the health significance of many exposure scenarios, and the adequacy of existing regulations to protect workers and the public. Although public exposures to beryllium and public awareness and concern regarding beryllium risks are currently low, beryllium risks have psychometric qualities that may lead to rapidly heightened public concern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity
  • Berylliosis / etiology
  • Beryllium / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Health
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Life Tables
  • Lung Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Occupational Exposure
  • Public Policy
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Management
  • United States


  • Air Pollutants
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Beryllium