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Beryllium Exposure

Beryllium Exposure: The “Unrecognized Epidemic”. The metal can be toxic to workers who handle it. Where has OSHA been?

This article describes how one OSHA employee became a whistle blower because the agency failed to protect its own workers.  As you read this summary, think about the potential exposure you have had at the Bannister Federal Complex and compare that to the infrequent and minimal exposures of the OSHA inspectors. What are your chances that you have become sensitized to Beryllium?

OSHA inspectors are exposed to certain chemical hazard, that’s part of the job. But, in March of 2005, 10 of 271 inspectors who were tested for Beryllium were found to be sensitized to the metal.  These inspectors only make brief and infrequent visits to plants that use the metal, yet they were around it enough to be sensitized.

What about the thousands of workers who breathe it every day?  According to Dr. Lee Newman of the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, there is an “unrecognized epidemic of chronic beryllium disease. Ounce for ounce, it (Beryllium) is more toxic than plutonium.”

The official standard limits to exposure of Beryllium, created in 1940 and still used today, are 2 millionths of a gram per dust per cubic meter of air. In 1970, OSHA tried to push through a lower limit, but the efforts were stalled by protesting companies.

In the 1990s, the DOE started a program to test the thousands of workers in it’s weapons facilities, which uncovered hundreds of cases of the disease. In 2005, the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists issued a draft report recommending that this standard limit be cut to one hundredth of the current value.


Reference

Bloomberg Businessweek, May 2, 2005, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_18/b3931048_mz011.htm