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  • Reviewed on 5/11
    By Dr. Maier et al.

Chronic Beryllium Disease: FAQ


Question: I’ve been diagnosed with CBD. Can I return to work?

Answer: Your ability to return to work after being diagnosed with beryllium sensitization or CBD depends on several factors, including your overall health and the type of work you do. Many individuals with CBD are able to resume a normal work schedule at their current job or a different one, as the disease, and its symptoms, progresses slowly.   

 

Question: Can I still work with or around beryllium?

Answer: While there is no level of exposure to beryllium that is considered “safe”, it is thought that exposures below 0.01 microgram per cubic meter as an 8-hour time-weighted average (TWA) may be safe for both sensitized and diseased workers. The use of respirators may be required for some areas or jobs. The employer or industrial hygienist will outline the type of respirator required, when to wear a respirator and how long to wear a respirator. At the present time it is not known whether removal from beryllium exposure changes the risk of developing CBD for a person with beryllium sensitization. It is also not known if removal from beryllium exposure will significantly change the course of illness for people with CBD. Even so, physicians consider it important and prudent for individuals with beryllium sensitization and CBD to minimize their exposure to airborne beryllium. National Jewish physicians recommend individuals diagnosed with beryllium sensitization and CBD who continue to work in a beryllium industry to have exposure of no more that 0.01 micrograms per cubic meter of beryllium as an 8-hour time-weighted average.   

 

Question: What if my employer can't accommodate my restrictions?

Answer: Your employer’s ability to accommodate your restrictions will depend on several factors, including the type of work you are trained to do, the availability of positions in the company that do not involve beryllium exposure, and the type of facility you work at. If you work in a Department of Energy facility and are part of the beryllium medical surveillance program, your employer is required to minimize your exposure to beryllium, or to find a different position for you within the facility, if one is available (for more information, please see http://www.eh.doe.gov/be/). If you work at a facility or at a company where no other positions are available, you may need to consider a different occupation. You may find it helpful to speak with a vocational counselor or to consult a beryllium support group. 

 

Question: Should I file a worker's compensation claim?

Answer: Filing a worker’s compensation claim may assist you in recovering lost wages and in obtaining future medical care. You should check with your state worker’s compensation office about laws governing payment of benefits, as each state has different rules. If you worked for a DOE beryllium vendor or for a DOE contractor, you may be eligible for a federal compensation program, the Energy Employees Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP), administered by the Department of Labor. For additional information on this program, please see below. 

 

Question: What is the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act?

Answer: The Energy Employees Illness Occupational Compensation Program Act, or EEOICPA, is a law passed by Congress in 2000. The Act established a program to provide medical care to current or former Department of Energy workers (including those who worked for certain DOE contractors and beryllium vendors) who developed beryllium sensitization or CBD as a result of their employment at these facilities. Under Part B of the program, individuals with beryllium sensitization are entitled to lifetime medical care related to their condition. Individuals with CBD are entitled to a lump sum payment of $150,000, in addition to lifetime medical care related to their disease. DOE workers and contractors are also eligible for benefits under Part E, although workers for beryllium vendors are not. Additional information on this program can be found at http://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/.

 

Question: Should I exercise?

Answer: Exercise is among the most important things you can do to maintain your health and lung function. Regular exercise can help improve shortness of breath, strengthen your heart and muscles, decrease your blood pressure, and even improve your mood. It helps to optimize your weight; carrying excess weight also contributes to shortness of breath and fatigue. It is important to talk with your physician before starting an exercise program. For more information on the benefits of exercise, please see http://www.nationaljewish.org/healthinfo/lifestyle/exercise/index.aspx.

 

Question: Will smoking make my disease worse? 

Answer: If you smoke cigarettes, it is important to stop. If you develop a smoking-related lung disease, such as emphysema, along with CBD, it can result in more damage to your lungs and be difficult to treat both diseases. Since both tobacco and beryllium are carcinogens, it is important to eliminate exposure to both beryllium and cigarette smoke. For more information on smoking cessation, please see http://www.nationaljewish.org/healthinfo/lifestyle/quitsmoking/index.aspx

 

Question: Can I donate blood if I have beryllium sensitization or CBD?

Answer: The chances of transmitting the T lymphocytes (immune cells that trigger beryllium sensitization and CBD) from one person to another through blood transfusions are astronomically low. Nonetheless, some blood banks may be hesitant to accept blood from patients with beryllium sensitization or disease. You should check with your physician and local blood bank before donating blood.   

 

Question: If I have beryllium sensitization or CBD and become pregnant, can I pass it to my unborn child?

Answer: There have been no reports of sensitization or disease among infants born to mothers exposed to beryllium or who have beryllium sensitizations or CBD. There have not been many studies specifically examining this question, but past research has indicated sensitization and CBD is very unlikely to occur in this manner. 

 

Question: Are there Support Groups for people with beryllium sensitization and CBD?

Answer: Talking with people who experience similar problems, concerns, feelings, or struggles can be helpful to people with chronic illness. There are a number of support groups across the country for people with beryllium sensitization and CBD.

Arizona
Tucson Arizona Beryllium Support Group
11323 N. Anway
Marana, AZ 85653

Colorado
Beryllium Support Group
P.O. Box 2021
Broomfield, CO 80038
303.412.7065
webmaster@beryllium.org

Ohio
Beryllium Disease Support Group of Ohio
P.O. Box 55
Oak Harbor, OH 43449
theresan@umich.edu

Tennessee
Y-12 Chronic Beryllium Disease Support Group
Beryllium Victims Alliance
504 Michigan Ave
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
Contact Glen Bell, Chairman
Wheezin2@aol.com

Washington
The Beryllium Awareness Group
Hanford, WA
Terry_cherney@rl.gov
C_w_chuck_wildman@rl.gov

 

Consulting individually with a mental healthcare professional familiar with chronic illness, especially occupational illness, may help you as well. 

For more information on beryllium, please contact National Jewish Health® at 1.800.222.5864.
 

References

  1. Yoshida T, Shima S, Nagoka K et al. A study on the beryllium Lymphocyte Transformation Test and the beryllium levels in working environment. Ind Health 1997; 35:374-379.
     
  2. Mroz MM, Balkissoon R, Newman LS. Beryllium. In: Bringham E, Cohrssen B, Powell C (eds.) Patty’s Toxicology, Fifth Edition. New York: John Wiley & Sons 2001, 177-220.

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