Beryllium is very interesting as a metal; it is strong, light and heat resistant, and has a very high melting point. Thus, it is a good metal to use in airplanes and rockets. Its use has increased in recent years, and it is found in neon signs and some electrical devices. Beryllium is often part of an alloy used in bicycle wheels, fishing rods, and metal household gadgets.

However, this light metal is toxic in humans. Beryllium can reduce stores of magnesium and decrease organ function, possibly through interference with enzymes. Contamination with beryllium, primarily from its industrial uses, is becoming more widespread. Industrial smoke and rocket exhaust may contain higher than healthful levels of beryllium. Beryllium inhalation can cause shortness of breath, coughing, phlegm, and lujg inflammation, which can lead to chronic scarring and disability. There is some question as to whether airborne beryllium may accumulate in the lungs and create an increased risk of cancer. Though it is not very widely used, and its toxicity is fairly minor, more intense use could lead to further problems with people exposed to higher levels of beryllium dust.

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Written by Elson M. Haas MD

Explore Wellness in 2021