Beryllium is a naturally-occurring, lightweight metal that is hard, non-magnetic, and a good conductor of heat and electricity. It is grey in color and found in rock, soil, coal, and volcanic ash. Beryllium is commercially mined and purified for use in the aerospace, nuclear, electronics, ceramics, and manufacturing industries.
What are the common uses of beryllium?
Beryllium ores are used to make specialty ceramics for electrical and high-technology applications. Beryllium alloys are used in automobiles, sports equipment (golf clubs and bicycle frames), electronic connectors, and dental bridges.
Examples of other products and processes that contain or release beryllium are:
Recycled metals and other materials from computers and electrical products.
Abrasive blasting operations, where coal or copper slag is used as a substitute for sand.
Welding processes, where beryllium is in the electrode, in the flux or rod, or in the alloy being fabricated.
Why is beryllium on the DoD Emerging Chemicals Action List?
Due to its lightweight nature and unique heat-resistant properties, beryllium is an important material for DoD with uses in aircraft and space vehicle structures, missile guidance systems, heat shields, nuclear weapons and reactors, specialty instruments, x-ray machines, and mirrors.
Emerging science and information about beryllium may lead to increased material cost and unavailability in the marketplace. In addition, this may lead to increased controls and protections for occupational and environmental health for the small number of sites where DoD workers may be exposed to beryllium dust, fumes and soluble salts.
DoD anticipates reduction in at least one occupational exposure limit within the next two to five years, specifically either the Permissible Exposure Limit established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Threshold Limit Value (TLV) established by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH). These changes may result in lowering exposure limits for workers.
Placement on the Action List is an indication that DoD believes that future changes in the management of the chemical is warranted. Thus, DoD is exploring how to proactively address potential new adverse impacts on the DoD mission — including environment, health, and safety concerns — that are associated with its use of beryllium.
How is DoD managing the risk posed by beryllium?
DoD strives to comply with state and federal regulations, and then takes additional protective measures when it has determined that some risks are still unacceptable.
Beryllium has been safely used for many years in DoD operations. As new information becomes available, DoD will adjust its risk assessment and safety guidelines to continue to protect its workforce and the environment while completing its mission.
Where can I get more information on the human health and environmental concerns related to beryllium?
The Beryllium Health and Safety Committee — composed of representatives from several federal agencies and industries — was established to promote the safe use of beryllium and prevent adverse health effects. The Committee’s web site has information on best work practices, research priorities, and technical standards and measures: https://berylliumhealthandsafetycommittee.com