Chronic beryllium disease and sensitization at a beryllium processing facility

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Oct;113(10):1366-72. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7845.


We conducted a medical screening for beryllium disease of 577 former workers from a beryllium processing facility. The screening included a medical and work history questionnaire, a chest radiograph, and blood lymphocyte proliferation testing for beryllium. A task exposure and a job exposure matrix were constructed to examine the association between exposure to beryllium and the development of beryllium disease. More than 90% of the cohort completed the questionnaire, and 74% completed the blood and radiograph component of the screening. Forty-four (7.6%) individuals had definite or probable chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and another 40 (7.0%) were sensitized to beryllium. The prevalence of CBD and sensitization in our cohort was greater than the prevalence reported in studies of other beryllium-exposed cohorts. Various exposure measures evaluated included duration; first decade worked; last decade worked; cumulative, mean, and highest job; and highest task exposure to beryllium (to both soluble and nonsoluble forms). Soluble cumulative and mean exposure levels were lower in individuals with CBD. Sensitized individuals had shorter duration of exposure, began work later, last worked longer ago, and had lower cumulative and peak exposures and lower nonsoluble cumulative and mean exposures. A possible explanation for the exposure-response findings of our study may be an interaction between genetic predisposition and a decreased permanence of soluble beryllium in the body. Both CBD and sensitization occurred in former workers whose mean daily working lifetime average exposures were lower than the current allowable Occupational Safety and Health Administration workplace air level of 2 microg/m3 and the Department of Energy guideline of 0.2 microg/m3.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Berylliosis / diagnosis
  • Berylliosis / etiology*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure*