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History of Beryllium

Beryllium, which was discovered in 1798 by the French chemist L.N. Vanquelin, corresponds to the fourth element in the periodic table, and with an atomic weight of nine, it is  the second lightest metal known.

Beryllium's toxicity was recognized from the 1930s. Industry and the government knew as early as the 1940s that exposure to minute quantities of beryllium dust could cause an incurable, potentially fatal, lung disease commonly referred to as beryllium disease.

Beryllium was identified around 1950 as an environmental and occupational hazard, leading to control measures. Due to these measures acute berylliosis is now eradicated but chronic berylliosis, also called chronic beryllium disease (CBD), still exists. Being a perfect phenocopy of sarcoidosis, CBD is rarely diagnosed 

Though no complete registry of cases of beryllium disease currently exists, it is estimated that at least 1,300 people throughout the U.S. have contracted the disease, and hundreds of those have died from it. Despite this knowledge, neither the government nor the industry took adequate measures to safeguard workers' health, resulting in an untold number of unnecessary deaths throughout the past 50 years.

Beryllium is used as an alloying agent in producing beryllium copper, which is extensively used for springs, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes, and non sparking tools. It has found application as a structural material for high-speed aircraft, missiles, spacecraft, and communication satellites. It is being used in the windshield frame, brake discs, support beams, and other structural components of the space shuttle. Because beryllium is relatively transparent to X-rays, ultra-thin Be-foil is finding use in X-ray lithography for reproduction of micro miniature integrated circuits.

Beryllium is used in nuclear reactors as a reflector or moderator for it has a low thermal neutron absorption cross section. It is used in gyroscopes, computer parts, and instruments where lightness, stiffness, and dimensional stability are required. The oxide has a very high melting po9int and is also used in nuclear work and ceramic applications.

WARNING! - INHALING BERYLLIUM DUST OR FUMES MAY CAUSE SERIOUS,  CHRONIC LUNG DISEASE AMONG EXPOSED WORKERS; THIS LUNG DISEASE CAN BE FATAL. BERYLLIUM CAN ALSO CAUSE LUNG CANCER.