Beryllium Exposure a Concern for Thousands in New Mexico

 

 

Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) officials in New Mexico have begun to notify at least two thousand workers and visitors that they may have been exposed to beryllium, an extremely toxic metal that can cause lung diseases if inhaled. LANL received a package in November 2008 that was contaminated with beryllium, but sent to one of its storage areas. While LANL says this is ordinarily not a problem, the package seemed either damaged or degraded, and prompted testing to make sure contamination had not spread.

The area tested positive for high levels of beryllium in the air, but it was not coming from the package. Officials now believe beryllium contamination may have been in the area for the last seven years, which is the last time the area was tested.

LANL believes it to be the responsible thing to let those who worked and may have visited the contaminated area in the last seven years that they may have been exposed. They are offering a blood test for all those who may have come into contact with the beryllium. Most of those who may have come into contact work at the lab, but some 600 were visitors. LANL has also said those who test positive for any disease as a result of beryllium exposure will be compensated and receive treatment.

Beryllium has several applications, such as a material used in satellites, missiles, and aircraft, telecommunications, x-rays, and in nuclear weapons designs.

Inhaling beryllium causes a disease that manifests with some of the same symptoms as pneumonia. Long-term exposure can lead to lung cancer. A small portion of people who have been exposed may develop chronic beryllium disease (CBD). CBD causes night sweats, weakness, fatigue, and may cause a persistent dry cough. Weight loss, heart enlargement and heart disease may also be present.