Written by Avvo Staff

Dangerous Metal: Beryllium Risks & Lawsuit Information

Beryllium is a chemical element that belongs to the family of elements known as the Alkaline Earth Metals, alongside magnesium, calcium, strontium, barium, and radium. Of these metals, Beryllium is the lightest and, in nature, almost never occurs by itself. Instead it is usually part of the mineral compound Beryl.

Beryllium possesses several properties that make it of particular interest:

  • It has a very high melting point: 1287 degrees Celsius.
  • It has a very low density for a metal: only 1.85 times the density of water.
  • At high temperatures, Beryllium maintains structural stability.
  • It has a much lower coefficient of thermal expansion than other metals, meaning that per unit of heat, the metal undergoes minimum expansion. In comparison, other metals and substances expand noticeably.

These combined factors make Beryllium desireable for any use in which it is subjected to high temperatures. This is because anything made of Beryllium will be a much more stable structure than if it had been made of other substances, while being of minimal weight.

Although there is much interest in Beryllium for use in commercial applications, it is extremely toxic. Therefore, its use has been limited.

Significant Adverse Risks

Beryllium is extremely toxic, particularly when inhaled, and should never be handled except by properly trained and equipped people.

Persons most likely to be exposed to Beryllium are Beryllium miners and persons who were exposed to broken fluorescent lighting prior to 1949, when use of Beryllium in such lights was discontinued. Because Beryllium has other industrial applications, exposure is not strictly limited to these areas.

There are two types of Beryllium related disorders: Acute Beryllium disease, and Chronic Beryllium disease, which is sometimes called CBD or Beryilliosis.

The symptoms of Acute Beryllium disease are difficult to diagnose. They are almost indistinguishable from general inhalational injuries, pneumonia, and some viral infections. Acute Beryllium disease can resemble the common cold, bronchitis, or other more common infections.

Likewise, the areas affected by Acute Beryllium disorder can be any of the areas where Beryllium might come into contact through inhalation, such as the mouth, nasal passages, trachea, and lungs.

There is no specific test for Acute Beryllium disease. Chest X-rays are usually used to determine the cause of respiratory tract problems and will reveal the presence of granulomatous inflammation, but cannot unable to determine these to be caused by Acute Beryllium Disease. The symptoms of Acute Beryllium disease resolve over time, usually between several weeks to several months after exposure.

Chronic Beryllium Disease (CBD) is a long-term form of Acute Beryllium Disease, with 15-20% of cases of Acute Beryllium Disease developing into CBD. Typically, CBD is distinguished from the acute variety by the development of granulomas, which are balls of white blood cells that form around the individual Beryllium particles in an attempt to wall them off from the rest of the body. Granulomas usually occur in the lungs, but can also occur in the liver, spleen, eyes, skin, and lymph nodes of the chest cavity.

Because granulomas may develop in situations other than exposure to Beryillium, such as Sarcoidosis or Tuberculosis, definite attribution to CBD is difficult to make.

Beryllium is also known to be a carcinogen. It may cause those exposed to it to develop cancer, particularly of the lungs.

Symptoms of Beryllium Poisoning

The symptoms of acute and chronic Beryllium poisoning are very broad, but are most commonly are:

  • Restriction of lung diffusion capacity, which is the ability to transfer oxygen from the lungs into the bloodstream
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Anorexia
  • Joint ache
  • Fever
  • Increased heart rate
  • Symptoms that resemble poor circulation, such as bluing of the skin tone, though in most cases this is due to the impairment of the ability of the lungs to transfer oxygen into the blood stream
  • Lower than normal blood oxygen levels

Beryllium Claims & Lawsuits

As a general rule, Beryllium exposure is closely controlled. If one is exposed to Beryllium and contracts an illness, that person is highly encouraged to seek legal action.

Exposure indicates a failure of proper environmental safeguards. Various Beryllium-related lawsuits and claims have been raised.

A current lawsuit concerning Beryllium has been brought by Freda Cobb, who used to work in a Florida prison. She suffered from various symptoms, such as sores and abdominal discomfort. In addition, her uterus grew so large that it had to be taken out. In 2004, Cobb retired from work because of her medical troubles. She did not connect her illness with her prison work until her mother started to suffer from the same symptoms.

Cobb reached the belief that the electronics recycling program at the Marianna Federal Correctional Institution was unsafe. One of her claims is that people who bought items from that location breathed unsafe metallic dust. Some of the electronics that were recycled at the prison and were later sold through its program contained Beryllium.

In 2000, Congress approved the Energy Employees' Occupational Illness Compensation Act. It provides a settlement for certain people who worked at nuclear sites and suffered from exposure to Beryllium as a result. Free monitoring to keep track of possible sensitivity to Beryllium is included. The Department of Labor is responsible for making payments to these people.

Getting Legal Help

The most important part of seeking help in a Beryllium exposure lawsuit is to ascertain that one has been exposed to Beryllium.

People are encouraged to see a medical professional who can apply a Beryllium Lymphocyte Proliferation Test, which tests for Beryllium sensitivity. This allergic reaction occurs only when one is exposed to Beryllium. This test should be performed in addition to the variety of other tests that can narrow symptoms to a point where CBD is the only probable culprit.

Then one should assemble the following data:

  • Date where Beryllium exposure most likely occurred
  • Place where Beryllium exposure most likely occurred
  • Time of first onset of symptoms
  • Symptoms experienced and order of occurrence

When this information has been gathered, any person suspecting Beryllium exposure should contact a lawyer who specializes in lawsuits of this nature.

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