Chronic Beryllium Disease Make an Appointment Find a Doctor Ask a Question Reviewed by Lisa A. Maier, MD, MSPH, FCCP (February 01, 2016) What is chronic beryllium disease (CBD)? Chronic beryllium disease (CBD) is a disease that primarily affects the lungs, causing inflammation, characteristic scars called granulomas and, in more severe cases, scarring called fibrosis. CBD is immune-mediated, meaning that CBD can develop only in individuals who have developed an immune response or “allergy” to beryllium metal, ceramic or alloy, termed beryllium sensitization (BeS). Beryllium sensitization occurs after a susceptible person breathes beryllium dust or fumes or if beryllium particles penetrate the skin. People are more likely to develop beryllium sensitization and CBD if they are susceptible or when they have (carry) certain genes, such as the HLA-DPB Glu69 gene. How do you develop CBD? It is important to know that no one develops CBD unless they are exposed to beryllium and develop an immune response (BeS) to it. Most people who are exposed to beryllium will not experience health effects. Studies have shown that on average, 1 – 6 percent of exposed workers develop beryllium sensitization, although the rates can be as high as 16 percent among workers with the highest exposures, such as beryllium machinists. Most workers who develop sensitization tend to do so early, but follow-up testing over the years continues to identify sensitization in individuals who were exposed up to 30 years earlier. For more information on beryllium, please contact National Jewish Health® at 1.800.222.5864, extension 1722. References 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. Balkissoon RC, Newman LS. Beryllium cooper alloy (2%) causes chronic beryllium disease. J Occup Environ Med 1999; 41: 304-308. Kreiss K, Mroz MM, Ahen B, Martyny JW, Newman LS. Epidemiology of beryllium sensitizations and disease in nuclear workers. Am Rev Respir Dis 1993; 148:985-991. Newman LS, Kreiss K. Non-occupational chronic beryllium disease masquerading as sarcoidosis: Identification by blood lymphocyte proliferative response to beryllium. Am Rev Respir Dis 1992; 145:1212-1214. Steenland K, Ward E. Lung Cancer Incidence Among Patients with Beryllium Disease: A Cohort Mortality Study. J Natl Cancer Inst 1991; 83:1380-1385. Kriebel D, et al. The pulmonary toxicity of beryllium. Am Rev Respir Dis 1988; 137: 464-473. Kreiss K, Newman LA, Mroz M, Campbell PA. Screening blood test identifies subclinical beryllium disease. J Occup Med 1989; 31:603-608. Kreiss K, Wasserman S, Mroz MM, Newman LS. Beryllium disease screening in ceramics industry: Blood test performance and exposure-disease relations. J Occup Med 1993; 35: 267-274. Kreiss K, Mroz MM, Newman LS, Martyny J, Zhen B. Machining risk of beryllium disease and sensitization with median exposures below 2 µg/m3. Am J Indust Med 1996; 30:16-25. Kreiss K, et al. Risks of beryllium disease related to work processes at a metal, alloy and oxide production plant. Occup Environ Med 1997; 54:605-612. Mroz MM, Kreiss K, Lezotte DC, Campbell PA, Newman LS. Re-examination of the blood lymphocyte transformation test in the diagnosis of chronic beryllium disease. J Allergy Clin Immunol 1991; 88:54-60. Kreiss K, Miller F, Newman LS, Ojo-Amaize EA, Rossman MD, Saltini C. Chronic beryllium disease: From the work place to cellular immunology, molecular immunogenetics, and back. Cl Immunol Immunopath 1994; 71:123-129. Rossman MD. Differential diagnosis of chronic beryllium disease. In: Rossman MD, Preuss OP, Powers MB, eds. Beryllium: Biomedical and Environmental Aspects. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1991; 167-175. Newman LS, Mroz MM, Maier LA, Danilof EM, Balkissoon R. Efficacy of serial medical surveillance for chronic beryllium disease in a beryllium machining plant. J Occup Environ Med 2001; 43:231-237. 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. Cullen M, et al. Chronic beryllium disease in a precious metal refinery: clinical, epidemiologic, and immunologic evidence for continuing risk from exposure to low-level beryllium fume, Am Rev Respir Dis 1987; 135:201-208. Schuler-CR; Kitt-MM; Henneberger-PK; Deubner-DC; Kreiss-K Cumulative sensitization and disease in a beryllium oxide ceramics worker cohort. J Occup Environ Med 2008 Dec; 50(12):1343-1350 Balmes, JR, et al. An official American Thoracic Society statement: diagnosis and management of beryllium sensitivity and chronic beryllium disease. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2014 Nov 15;190(10):e34-59. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201409-1722ST. Programs & Services Beryllium Program Clinical Trials For more than 100 years, National Jewish Health has been committed to finding new treatments and cures for diseases. Search our clinical trials.