Process-related risk of beryllium sensitization and disease in a copper-beryllium alloy facility

Am J Ind Med. 2005 Mar;47(3):195-205. doi: 10.1002/ajim.20140.


Background: Chronic beryllium disease (CBD), which primarily affects the lungs, occurs in sensitized beryllium-exposed individuals. At a copper-beryllium alloy strip and wire finishing facility we performed a cross-sectional survey to examine prevalences of beryllium sensitization and CBD, and relationships between sensitization and CBD and work areas/processes.

Methods: Current employees (185) were offered beryllium lymphocyte proliferation testing (BeLPT) for sensitization, clinical evaluation for CBD (if sensitized), and questionnaires. We obtained historical airborne beryllium measurements.

Results: Participation was 83%. Prevalences of sensitization and CBD were 7% (10/153) and 4% (6/153), respectively; this included employees with abnormal BeLPTs from two laboratories, four diagnosed with CBD during the survey, and one each diagnosed preceding and following the survey. Potential BeLPT laboratory problems were noted; one laboratory was twice as likely to have reported an abnormal result (P < 0.05, all tests), and five times as likely to have reported a borderline or uninterpretable result (P < 0.05, first blood draw and all tests). CBD risk was highest in rod and wire production (P < 0.05), where air levels were highest.

Conclusions: Sensitization and CBD were associated with an area in which beryllium air levels exceeded 0.2 microg/m3, and not with areas where this level was rarely exceeded. Employees at this copper-beryllium alloy facility had similar prevalences of sensitization and CBD as workers at facilities with higher beryllium air levels.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity*
  • Alloys / toxicity*
  • Berylliosis / epidemiology*
  • Beryllium / blood
  • Beryllium / toxicity*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Copper* / toxicity*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Immunization / statistics & numerical data
  • Lymphocytes / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • Alloys
  • Copper
  • Beryllium