Beryllium in the environment: a review

J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2003 Feb;38(2):439-69. doi: 10.1081/ese-120016906.


Beryllium is an important industrial metal because of its unusual material properties: it is lighter than aluminum and six times stronger than steel. Often alloyed with other metals such as copper, beryllium is a key component of materials used in the aerospace and electronics industries. Beryllium has a small neutron cross-section, which makes it useful in the production of nuclear weapons and in sealed neutron sources. Unfortunately, beryllium is one of the most toxic elements in the periodic table. It is responsible for the often-fatal lung disease, Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD) or berylliosis, and is listed as a Class A EPA carcinogen. Coal-fired power plants, industrial manufacturing and nuclear weapons production and disposal operations have released beryllium to the environment. This contamination has the potential to expose workers and the public to beryllium. Despite the increasing use of beryllium in industry, there is surprisingly little published information about beryllium fate and transport in the environment. This information is crucial for the development of strategies that limit worker and public exposure. This review summarizes the current understanding of beryllium health hazards, current regulatory mandates, environmental chemistry, geochemistry and environmental contamination.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Beryllium / adverse effects*
  • Beryllium / chemistry*
  • Carcinogens / adverse effects*
  • Carcinogens / chemistry*
  • Environment
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Ion Exchange
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Public Health
  • Risk Assessment


  • Carcinogens
  • Beryllium