Beryllium exposure can cause a granulomatous lung disease in workers who develop a lymphocyte-mediated sensitization to the metal. Workers in diverse industries are at risk because beryllium's properties are critical to nuclear, aerospace, telecommunications, electronic, metal alloy, biomedical, and semiconductor industries. The occupational air concentration standard's failure to protect beryllium workers is driving many scientific and occupational health advances. These developments include study of bioavailability of different physicochemical forms of beryllium, medical surveillance to show effectiveness of skin protection in preventing sensitization in high-risk processes, gene-environment interaction, transgenic mice for use in experimental research, and risk-based management of industrial exposures in the absence of effective exposure-response information. Beryllium sensitization and disease prevention are paradigms for much broader public health action in both occupational and general population settings.