Under some circumstances beryllium dust, mist, fume or vapor, when inhaled, may be hazardous to health. In addition, the soluble beryllium salts may produce a dermatitis on contact with the skin. There is, however, no ingestion problem. The hazards are generally classified as an acute respiratory disease, a chronic disease or dermatitis.
It is generally accepted that the acute disease is caused by exposure to airborne dust, mists, or fume of the soluble salts of beryllium, especially beryllium fluoride and sometimes the sulphate. The acute disease, which is similar to the conditions caused by exposure to phosgene, or oxides of nitrogen, has a relatively short latency period (a few days).
The chronic disease is the more important industrial hazard met when working with beryllium, since it has a latency period with a remarkable variance. However, since 1949 there are no disabling cases of berylliosis. For people working with beryllium, preplacement and periodic medical examinations should be routine.
Dermatitis is produced by skin contact with soluble salts of beryllium, especially the fluoride. Besides rash, irritation of the nose, throat and eyes is encountered. Granuloma may result from embedded particles in the skin. Dermatitis is controlled by a program of good personal hygiene, frequent washing of the exposed parts, as well as by a clothing program where clothing is laundered on the working plant site. This practice also keeps beryllium from going home with the worker, preventing henceforth non-ocupational exposures.