Beryllium Safety

In our laboratory we work salts that contain beryllium fluoride. We provide this public page on the beryllium safety practices in our group because:

(1) We want to be transparent about our practices – please contact us if you have suggestions for how we can do better.

(2) We hope that these resources might be useful to other labs that are working or considering working with beryllium fluoride, with the disclaimer that these guidelines are not complete, they are tailored to our conditions (and may not directly apply to other labs or other activities), and they may be incorrect.

Beryllium Hazards


Beryllium is a respiratory hazard, and possibly a carcinogen. It can be present in non-water soluble form (for example, metal or oxides), or in soluble forms (for example fluorides). Soluble forms are susceptible to absorption through skin. Regardless of its chemical form, when it is present in the form of dust, it can be inhaled causing respiratory disease.

In many respects protocols are similar to radiation safety protocols in a chemical lab, with the difference that contamination measurements are more difficult to make, and turn-around time on measurements is a week or more. Therefore additional procedures are in place, that are unique to beryllium safety.

Laboratory measures are taken to prevent:

  1. Inhalation exposure to dust containing beryllium in any of its chemical forms.
  2. Skin exposure.
  3. Tracking beryllium out of the laboratory on clothes, shoes, laptops, notebooks, and any other items that may leave the laboratory.
  4. Releasing beryllium-contaminated tools for general use inside or outside of our laboratory.
  5. Beryllium-contaminated samples in shared characterization laboratories or in laboratories other than our own, without prior discussion with the external lab owners and establishment of a protocol.


These are some of the elements of our beryllium safety plan:

  1. Containment. Prevents the contamination of our laboratories.

    1. Glove-box operation and maintenance procedures. Unique glove-box specifications.
    2. Glove-box training. Decontamination procedures training (for taking items outside of the glovebox). And other procedures and trainings to ensure effective containment.
    3. Sample transferring. Contaminated item storage external of the glove-box. Contaminated waste storage external of the glove-box.
  2. Surface cleaning. Prevents accumulation of beryllium in our laboratories.
    1. Floor mopping and surface wiping with soap and water. Performed after specific procedures. Also performed on a regular basis, as general laboratory maintenance.
    2. Laboratory specifications to prevent equipment and areas that can accumulate dust and cannot be routinely cleaned. Keeping the floor clear makes floor cleaning mush easier (possibly doable by a floor mopping robot). Laboratory should be painted with water-washable paint. All surfaces should be non-porous, water washable, or easily replaceable (and planned for periodic replacement).
    3. Keep the lab clean.
  3. Beryllium Monitoring in Our Laboratories
    1. Surface swipes < 0.2 µg/100 cm2 (DOE recommended action limit). 0.025 µg/100 cm2 detection limit (samples processed by Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene)
    2. Air monitoring < 0.2 µg/ m3 (OSHA proposed time-weighted average). 0.014 µg/m3 detection limit (samples processed by Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene). 2.4 µg/m3 aluminum plants in France (Hulo 2016). 2 µg/m3 peak, in DOE Be-machining labs (DOE). 0.0003 µg/m3 background level in Germany (WHO).
    3. Monitoring is performed with support from the UW Environmental and Occupational Health.
  4. Health Monitoring
    1. UW Occupational health performs beryllium sensitization screening, and lung function screening on a yearly basis, for everyone with access to our laboratories (whether or not they perform beryllium-related experiments).
    2. Annual respirator fitting.
  5. Personal protection equipment (PPE)
    1. Laboratory general practice: goggles, lab coats, long pants, closed shoes.
    2. Some operations require additional PPE: respirator in the event of an accidental release, breach of containments, or any other suspicion of contamination, full Tyvek suit for periodic deep-cleaning of the lab, etc.
    3. Everybody is fitted with a respirator, to be able to respond in the event of an accidental release.
    4. Everybody washes hands with soap and water when leaving the laboratory.
  6. Waste disposal
    1. Liquid waste [information to be filled in]
    2. Solid waste [information to be filled in]
  7. Training
    1. Before obtaining laboratory access, new personnel needs to attend laboratory safety orientation for our labs, and beryllium safety training. We keep records of these training sessions.
    2. All visitors are informed of the beryllium hazards before entering our lab, and they sign a visitor log.
    3. Signs inside and outside the laboratory serve as reminders of lab practices.
    4. Make sure everyone’s training is up to date.
  8. Laboratory access
    1.  Card-key access expires when training or periodic health monitoring expires. Record-keeping is an essential element.
    2. Signs are posted on the laboratory door indicating restricted access and warning of the beryllium hazard.
  9. Safety reviews and audits and procedure updates
    1. Safety reviews are required before performing new operations or new experiments that may lead to beryllium contamination, or that may affect the operation of the glove box. Safety reviews are documented and need to involve somebody who is not involved in the experiment being proposed.
    2. Safety reviews can be both internal and external.
    3. External audits and reviews should be performed with a specified frequency.
    4. At the end of every procedure the last step should be: “Are modifications needed? Propose modifications and improvements to this procedure, have them reviewed, and implement them.”
    5. Part of the training of new personnel, they are ask to identify two ways in which our practices can be made better, and to follow-up on having those proposals reviewed and implemented.
    6. Procedures and safety practices should be living documents.
  10. Lessons Learned
    1. Near misses and lessons learned are discussed in weekly group meetings, and documented on the group’s internal website (including description of what happened, lessons learned, and corrective actions)
  11. Safety culture is very important
    1. Procedures and rules are necessary but not sufficient. How things are actually done is dictated by the safety culture.

Relevant resources for Beryllium Safety:

[list to be updated to annotation and highlights of pertinent information]

  1. DOE CBD Prevention Program
  2. World Health Organization
  3. OSHA
  4. CDC
  5. International Agency for Research on Cancer – Carcinogenic evaluation of Be, Cd, Hg in the glass industry 1993
  6. National Jewish Health
  7. Be Biobank


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