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Q. What is beryllium?
A. Beryllium is a brittle, steel-grey metal found as a component of coal, oil, certain rock minerals, volcanic dust, and soil. Elemental beryllium (atomic #4) is the second lightest of all metals and is used in a wide variety of applications. In its elemental form beryllium exhibits the unique properties of being lightweight and extremely stiff, giving the metal several applications in the aerospace, nuclear, and manufacturing industries. Exposure to beryllium most often occurs in mining, extraction, and in the processing of alloy metals containing beryllium.
Q. What is beryllium disease?
A. Beryllium disease is caused by the inhalation of beryllium particles, dust or fumes. Its symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, fever and sweating. Medical tests may reveal abnormal lung sounds, lung scars, decreased pulmonary function, granulomas (a nodular form of chronic inflammation) and an allergy to beryllium.
The chronic form of the disease, Chronic Beryllium Disease ("CBD") is caused by an allergic reaction to beryllium.
Depending on the severity of CBD, symptoms of pulmonary hypertension, cor pulmonale, or respiratory failure may be present. CBD is incurable, usually irreversible and may result in death. The acute form of the disease, involving skin disease with poor wound healing and rash or wart-like bumps can also occur but is rarely seen and is not nearly as serious as CBD.
Q. If I’ve been exposed to beryllium how long can it take CBD to show itself?
A. CBD has a very slow onset. It can sometimes take thirty years or more after exposure before CBD will be seen or diagnosed.
Q. Where can I be exposed to beryllium?
A. Exposure to beryllium can occur in the workplace. Among the industries which have used beryllium:
·Metal working (pure beryllium, copper and aluminum
alloys, jet brake pads, aerospace components)
·Ceramic manufacturing (semi-conductor chips, ignition modules, crucibles, jet engine blades, rocket covers)
·Electronics (transistors, heat sinks, x-ray windows)
·Atomic energy industry (heat shields, nuclear reactors, nuclear weapons)
·Laboratory work (research and development, metallurgy, chemistry)
·Extraction (ore and scrap metal)
·Dental work (alloys and crowns, bridges, dental plates)
·Prior to 1951, it was used in the fluorescent lamp industry
Q. Can I be exposed to beryllium outside the workplace?
A. Yes. Evidence has existed for decades that persons living near beryllium used in industry, i.e., plants and factories, can be exposed and sickened by beryllium dust, particles and fumes released into the general atmosphere.
Q. How much beryllium does it take to become sick?
A. A single exposure is sufficient for a lifelong risk of developing the disease. Because CBD is caused by an allergic reaction to beryllium, very little exposure is required in order to cause the chronic form of the disease. Unlike other toxic elements, exposure to greater quantities of beryllium does not necessarily enhance the chance that you will get CBD. (There is no dose-response relationship).
Q. How do you know if you’ve got CBD?
A. You may already have symptoms which include fatigue, non-productive cough, gradually progressive shortness of breath, chest pain, anorexia, weight loss, fevers, night sweats and joint and muscle pain. However, you may have none of these symptoms and still have the disease or be considered beryllium sensitized.
Q. If the presence of symptoms may or may not tell me that I have CBD, how can I be diagnosed?
A. The best way to be diagnosed for CBD is to be clinically evaluated by a physician and subjected to a blood test known as a beryllium lymphocyte proliferation test (BeLPT).
Q. What is a blood BeLPT test or screen?
A. Blood BeLPT is a simple test which determines if you are allergic to beryllium and, therefore, beryllium sensitized. This test can establish a beryllium-specific immune response using the blood or lavage BeLPT or beryllium salt patch test plus pathologic changes consistent with CBD. While a history of beryllium exposure is helpful, it’s documentation is no longer essential to establish a diagnose of CBD since the BeLPT has been shown to be highly specific. This is especially important given that seemingly trivial exposures to beryllium can cause significant disease. By using an immunologic criterion, patients who have little apparent history of beryllium exposure can be detected. Also, individuals may now be diagnosed with CBD at its early stages, sometimes prior to the appearance of clinical signs, symptoms, or radiographic (x-ray) or physiologic (lung function) abnormalities. Early detection may improve disease prognosis even though it remains incurable. Finally, the immunologic tests help distinguish CBD from other kinds of interstitial lung disorders, correcting misdiagnosis and directing appropriate therapeutic interventions. CBD in the past has often been confused with sarcoidosis.
Q. How is CBD treated?
A. Primary prevention is superior to medical treatment of CBD. Unfortunately for current cases, there is no cure for CBD. The goals of treatment are to reduce morbidity and mortality by inhibiting inflammation and slowing disease progression. Removal from exposure is always recommended.
Q. Can exposure to beryllium cause other adverse health effects?
A. Yes. Scientific evidence has confirmed that beryllium is a human carcinogen and a number of large epidemiologic studies have shown an increased risk of lung cancer among those exposed to beryllium.
Q. If I have CBD, or have been shown to be sensitized to beryllium, what are my legal rights?
A. Whether you were exposed to beryllium in the workplace or simply by living near the industrial use of beryllium, you have important legal rights. Polluting the workplace and the general environment may be actionable if you have been harmed. Workers exposed in the workplace may have workers’ compensation rights as well as the ability to sue their employer and third parties for their injuries. Similarly, nearby residents and others in the community exposed to emissions of beryllium dust, fumes and particulate can sue the companies responsible for those emissions for money damages.
Q. I recently heard about a federal program granting benefits to certain workers in the beryllium industry (the Energy Employees’ Occupational Illness Compensation Act of 2000 [H.R. 5408]). Should I file a claim under this Act?
A. Assuming you are eligible for benefits under the Act, you must give up your right to sue the companies responsible for causing your chronic beryllium disease. Since settlements and awards from lawsuits in chronic beryllium diseases can far exceed the available government benefits, all workers with potential claims should consult an attorney before deciding what course of action to pursue. Only benefits for workers under the Act are available, community residents living near beryllium plants can sue the plant operators for their injuries but cannot pursue benefits under the Act.
Q. Whether I have been injured as a resident living near a beryllium plant, as a worker in the beryllium industry, or both, what should I do to learn more about my rights?
A. An attorney knowledgeable about beryllium litigation can advise you about your rights.
Q. If I worked or lived near a beryllium facility in Pennsylvania or elsewhere. Where can I get legal information about my rights?
A. Feel free to call the law firm of Golomb & Honik toll-free at 1-800-355-3300 and speak with either Ruben Honik or Richard Golomb. The firm represents individuals injured from toxic substances like beryllium, and has successfully handled claims against NGK Metals Corporation and Cabot Corporation (formerly Cabot-Berylco, Kawecki Berylco, Inc. and the Beryllium Corporation) in Southeastern Pennsylvania.*
Golomb & Honik will evaluate your case, at no cost to you and without obligation. To schedule an appointment or to learn more about your rights in beryllium cases, call toll-free 1-800-355-3300 and ask for either Ruben Honik or Richard Golomb.
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