Occupational Safety and Health: Government Responses to Beryllium Uses and Risks: OCG-00-6

May 2000
GAO Reports;5/19/2000, p1
Government Document
For decades, the U.S. military has used beryllium--a lightweight metal--to produce various weapons systems. Lightness, strength, and other attributes have made beryllium useful in a wide array of products, from aircraft to x-ray equipment to nuclear weapons. Since the 1940s, however, scientists have linked beryllium exposure to an inflammatory lung condition, which can be debilitating, even fatal. Studies from the 1950s showed that beryllium can cause cancer in laboratory animals. From the 1960s through the 1990s, the Departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) took several steps to assess and respond to risks associated with exposure to beryllium. DOD discontinued testing beryllium in rocket fuel by 1970, due in part to concerns about meeting air quality requirements. In 1975, OSHA proposed a more stringent worker exposure standard for beryllium that was based on evidence that it was carcinogenic in laboratory animals. Energy improved working conditions at its facilities and implemented medical testing for its current and former workers during the 1980s and 1990s after new cases of chronic beryllium disease were identified during the 1980s. Energy issued a rule in 1999 that established new worker safety controls, such as greater use of respirators and assessing hazards associated with work tasks, for its facilities that use beryllium. Energy has also proposed a compensation program for Energy workers affected by chronic beryllium disease.


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