Reversible respiratory disease in beryllium workers

Am Rev Respir Dis. 1978 Jun;117(6):1011-7. doi: 10.1164/arrd.1978.117.6.1011.


A medical and environmental survey was carried out in a beryllium extraction and processing plant in 1971, and a follow-up study was done in 1974. Peak air concentrations of beryllium of as much as 50 times the accepted peak limit value were found in the plant in 1971. Radiographic changes of interstitial disease were found in 31 workers, hypoxemia was found in 20, and in 11 workers a combination of hypoxemia and radiographic changes of interstitial disease was seen. Follow-up in 1974 showed that air concentrations had all decreased significantly, mainly because of improvements in engineering and ventilation in the plant. Improvement in hypoxemia and decreased alveolar-arterial O2 tension difference at rest ([A-a]DO2) were noted in 13 of the 20 men who had hypoxemia in 1971 and were available for follow-up. In addition, radiographic abnormalities of interstitial disease were reversed in some workers. Our results suggest that improvement in gas exchange and radiographic findings of interstitial disease occurs when peak air concentrations of beryllium are decreased. Our approach in combining environmental and medical screening in workers exposed to beryllium enabled us to identify persons with early changes, to detect reversible abnormalities, and to correlate air concentrations with the medical status of workers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Beryllium / adverse effects*
  • Blood Gas Analysis
  • Chronic Disease
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia / chemically induced
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology
  • Lung / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Occupational Diseases / physiopathology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / chemically induced*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / physiopathology
  • Smoking / physiopathology
  • Spirometry
  • United States


  • Beryllium