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Beryllium is a highly desirable metallic raw material that is used in the aerospace, telecommunications, information technology, defense and medical industries. It has a high melting point, excellent thermal stability and conductivity, reflectivity and transparency to X-rays.
Several forms of beryllium are produced industrially, including pure beryllium, beryllium oxide and copper-beryllium alloys. These materials are used to make a variety of components, such as bushings and bearings for nuclear equipment, electronic equipment, and aerospace systems that require speed and maneuverability.
Beryl (also known as emerald, morganite and aquamarine) is mined worldwide, but a majority of beryllium production comes from U.S. sources, according to the Beryllium Science & Technology Association. It is either extracted in a sintering process or melted to form a soluble mixture of beryl, sodium fluorosilicate and soda.
It is also found in fly ash from coal-fired power plants and in abrasive blasting materials such as silica sand, garnet, and crushed glass. The beryllium in these materials can enter the atmosphere through contaminated work clothing and vehicles of workers exposed to beryllium-containing material.
The beryllium in these products can irritate the skin, cause dermatitis and cause lung diseases. It can also lead to a debilitating disease called chronic beryllium disease (CBD).
OSHA beryllium standards for general industry, construction, and shipyards require employers to implement protective measures for workers who are exposed to beryllium in their workplace. The agency’s Occupational Safety and Health Information System (OIS) identifies primary beryllium manufacturing, alloy production, and recycling as being among the highest exposures to beryllium in these industries.