Little is known about the physicochemical properties of beryllium aerosols associated with increased risk of beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease (CBD). Such information is needed to evaluate whether airborne mass of beryllium is the appropriate metric of exposure or alternatively to provide a scientific basis for using information on particle size, surface area, and chemistry to support an improved exposure limit based on bioavailability through the inhalation and dermal routes of exposure. Thus, we used a suite of analytical techniques to characterize aerodynamically size-fractionated beryllium particles and powders that have been associated in epidemiological studies with higher prevalence of CBD. Aerosol particles were sampled from the ventilation systems of production lines for powders of beryllium metal and beryllium oxide and for ingots of copper–beryllium alloy. End product powders from the metal and oxide production lines were also collected.
Particles released during production of beryllium metal were found to be complex, having heterogeneous composition, including reactive species such as fluorine. Powders from beryllium metal production were of high purity with only a minor component of beryllium oxide. Both particles and powders from oxide production were high-purity oxide. Particles released during production of copper–beryllium alloy were heterogeneous, being predominantly copper oxides. Thus, all particles and powders contain at least some beryllium in the form of beryllium oxide.
These data justify efforts to thoroughly characterize beryllium aerosol properties when performing exposure assessments. The data also suggest that differences in particle chemical composition, size, number, and surface area may influence bioavailability of beryllium and contribute to risk of CBD. However, a scientific basis does not yet exist to replace mass as the current metric of exposure.