Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, in collaboration with private industry and other government agencies, have produced a new reference material for beryllium. Beryllium, an exotic alkaline-earth metal used as a hardener in high-performance alloys and ceramics, can cause berylliosis, a chronic, incurable and sometimes fatal illness. The new reference material is expected to dramatically improve methods used to monitor workers' exposure and aid in contamination control as well as toxicological research.
The use of beryllium in manufacturing dates back to the advent of
the atomic age. One of the scientists involved with the famous Chicago
experiment known as Chicago Pile-1 to create the first artificial
self-sustaining nuclear reaction in 1942 died of berylliosis in 1988.
Aside from the nuclear industry, the unique properties of beryllium
make it valuable in the manufacture of aircraft and supercolliders.
Beryllium dust can cause a condition characterized by chronic skin
and/or respiratory inflammation resembling pneumonia in susceptible
individuals and can increase the risk of lung cancers with long periods
of exposure. Treating the particles as a threat, the body's immune
system floods the affected area with white blood cells. The cells
surround the beryllium particles and harden to form inflamed tissue
nodules called granulomas. These granulomas can lodge under the skin or
in lung tissue where
they cause difficulty breathing and a host of other symptoms including
fatigue, weight loss and muscle pain. The condition, although
treatable, is incurable.
According to NIST scientist Winchester, previous analytical tests for exposure
monitoring relied on an easily dissolved form of beryllium that was not
representative of what people would be exposed to in the field.
The new material:
The new Standard Reference Material, Beryllium Oxide Powder (SRM
1877), consists of high-fired crystalline beryllium oxide that has been
thoroughly characterized physically and chemically. The particles that
make up the powder have an average diameter of about 200 nanometers and
have been separated into aggregated clusters that will pass through a
20 mesh screen. NIST scientists Greg Turk and Mike Winchester used a
high performance inductively coupled plasma optical emission
spectrometry technique developed at NIST to certify the mass fraction
(the ratio of pure beryllium in the beryllium oxide) in the compound.
NIST provided its partners with support to perform the preparations and
did the final analysis of the solutions when they were completed.
SRM mimics the form of beryllium to which workers would be exposed much
more closely and should facilitate much more representative and
informative toxicological studies, more sensitive monitoring and more
effective cleanup of contaminated areas.
Source: Adapted from NIST
NIST: Material Details: SRM 1877 - Beryllium Oxide Powder
Related EVISA Resources
Link Database: Toxicity of Beryllium and its compounds
Link Database: Industrial use of beryllium
Link Database: Occupational exposure to beryllium
Link Database: Analytical methods for the determination of Beryllium
Material Database: Materials certified for beryllium content
Link page: All about CRMs
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last time modified: January 26, 2012