Chicago Companies whose workers handle the toxic metal beryllium often fail to warn workers about the hazards of exposure to the metal, putting them at risk of an often fatal lung disease, a newspaper reported.
Beryllium disease once was associated primarily with the defense industry, where the metal was used in nuclear weapons, but now is becoming increasingly common among workers in private and consumer industries, the Chicago Tribune reported.
The disease, caused when the metal's dust slowly damages the lungs of people who have been exposed, is rare, incurable and often fatal.
There has been a rise of beryllium disease cases among workers in private industries in the past few years, according to the National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver, a leading respiratory disease hospital that diagnoses more beryllium illness than any other health care facility.
Since 1985, the hospital has diagnosed about 100 cases of beryllium poisoning among workers outside the defense industry and major beryllium production plants, said Dr. Lee Newman, a hospital scientist.
Newman called that figure the "tip of the iceberg," saying the disease often goes undetected and many workers don't know they have it.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires workplace warnings on beryllium and limits on exposure to its dust.
But the newspaper, citing government, court and industry documents, said companies often don't follow those rules and the government doesn't adequately enforce the laws.
Beryllium is used in the electronics, recycling, machining and dental industries because it is lightweight but extremely strong.