Objective: People exposed to beryllium compounds are at increased risk of developing beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease (CBD). The purpose of this short communication is to present information regarding the potential importance of skin exposure to beryllium, an exposure and alternate immune response pathway to the respiratory tract, which has been largely overlooked in epidemiologic and exposure assessment studies.
Methods: We reviewed the published literature, including epidemiologic, immunologic, genetic, and laboratory-based studies of in vivo and in vitro models, to assess the state of knowledge concerning skin exposure to beryllium.
Results: Reduction in inhalation exposure to beryllium has not resulted in a concomitant reduction in the occurrence of beryllium sensitization or CBD, suggesting that continued prevalence may be due, in part, to unchecked skin exposure to beryllium-containing particles.
Conclusions: Recent developments in our understanding of the multiple exposure pathways that may lead to beryllium sensitization and CBD suggest that a prudent approach to worker protection is to assess and minimize both skin and inhalation exposures to beryllium.