Beryllium and chronic beryllium disease

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Chapter: Essentials of Inorganic Chemistry : Alkaline Earth Metals

The element beryllium can be found in the mineral beryl [Be3Al2(SiO3)6] and has minor but important technical applications.


Beryllium and chronic beryllium disease

The element beryllium can be found in the mineral beryl [Be3Al2(SiO3)6] and has minor but important technical applications. Owing to its unique properties, it is used in industrial lightweight systems, for example, turbine rotor blades, automotive parts and electrical contacts. The pure beryllium metal is also used in the nuclear industry.

Beryllium has an exceptionally small atomic radius, and as a result beryllium fluoride, chloride and oxide show evidence of covalent bonds in contrast to the other group 2 oxides or halides. Beryllium halides should be linear if they exhibit the ionic bonding character. This linear form can only be found in the gas phase. In the solid state, the beryllium centre is three or fourfold coordinated, which can be achieved, for example, by polymerisation.

Beryllium and its compounds are extremely poisonous and therefore there is only a very limited potential for their clinical applications. Indeed, even the inhalation of beryllium or its compounds can lead to serious respiratory diseases such as the chronic beryllium disease, and soluble beryllium compounds can cause serious skin irritations. Workers within the metal production industry are most likely exposed to beryllium and run the highest risk of developing CBD. But also people working in connected professions such as administrative staff or families are at high risk of beryllium poisoning. Symptoms are not well reported, may occur many years after the exposure and include cough, fatigue and chest pain, whereas nonrespiratory organs can also be affected. However, the introduction of exposure limits and general awareness of the risk have significantly reduced the risk of beryllium exposure and its consequences .

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