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Get Informed | Beryllium

What is Beryllium?

Beryllium is a relatively rare element, and occurs naturally only in combination with other elements. It is designated in the Periodic Table by the symbol “Be”. The most notable minerals containing beryllium are beryl (beryllium aluminum silicate), and bertrandite (beryllium silicate), which are found in rocks formed from solidified lava or magma. The gemstones emerald and aquamarine are precious forms of beryl.

Beryllium is naturally present in soils, sediments, and fossil fuels. The average beryllium concentration in coal is between 1.8 and 2.2 µg/g.

Industrial beryllium is typically obtained from beryl and bertrandite using a chemical process, or through the electrolysis of a mixture of molten beryllium chloride and sodium chloride. When isolated, beryllium exists as a silver-gray metal. Today, about 80% to 90% of the world's supply of beryllium is refined from bertrandite mined at Spor Mountain, Utah.

Beryllium is alloyed with other metals, and is used in the aerospace, electronics and mechanical industries. Some products made with beryllium alloys include springs, gyroscopes, electrical contacts, spot-welding electrodes, and non-sparking tools. High-purity beryllium metal is used in nuclear reactors for neutron reflectors and moderators.

Beryllium oxide is used for some ceramic applications in electronics and microelectronics, such as the magnetrons in microwave ovens.

The U.S. Department of Defense classifies beryllium as a strategic and critical material as it can be found in products that are essential to national security.

How Does Beryllium Become a Problem? 

Beryllium is naturally emitted into the atmosphere by windblown dusts and volcanic particles. The major emission source to the environment from human activity is the combustion of coal and fuel oil, which releases particulates and fly ash containing beryllium into the atmosphere. Other sources of beryllium into the atmosphere include the incineration of municipal solid waste, ore processing, metal fabrication; the production, use, and recycling of beryllium alloys and chemicals and, to a minor extent, the burning of solid rocket fuel. Atmospheric beryllium particulates eventually settle to the Earth's surface.

Beryllium compounds are naturally present in soil, but the concentration in local soils can be higher from the disposal of coal ash, municipal combustor ash, and industrial wastes that contain beryllium. Application of sewage sludge to the land, to either condition the soil or fertilize crops or other vegetation, can also be a source of beryllium soil contamination.

Beryllium naturally enters waterways through the weathering of rocks and soils. Other sources of beryllium in surface waters include treated wastewater effluents from beryllium or related industries, and the runoff from beryllium-containing waste sites.

Exposure to water-soluble beryllium compounds in the environment pose a greater threat to human health than exposure to water-insoluble forms. Beryllium was found in 5% of 1,577 drinking water samples obtained throughout the United States. Although beryllium is usually found in drinking water at low concentrations, data are limited and there may be specific circumstances in which concentrations can be elevated due to natural sources, where the pH is either below 5 or above 8, or there is high Turbidity.

What are the Health Risks for Beryllium?

Beryllium and its compounds are toxic and are classified as carcinogens by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The general population is exposed to beryllium through inhalation of air and the consumption of food and drinking water. If beryllium dust or fumes are inhaled it can lead to an incurable inflammation of the lungs, called berylliosis.

Studies suggest consumption of drinking water containing beryllium well in excess of the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for many years could cause intestinal lesions, affect skin and lung tissues, and weaken the skeletal system.

What are the Standards for Beryllium?

The primary drinking water standard maximum contaminant level for beryllium is 4 ug/L, or 4 ppb.

The EPA believes, given present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant should it occur in drinking water.

Get Tested | Beryllium

Comprehensive water testing should be done to determine more than just the presence of beryllium. Beryllium contamination may also be related to contamination associated with raw Earth elements and radioactive elements. Knowledge of other water quality characteristics will influence the technology selected to treat the problem. Information should be gathered about your water supply source, well construction, surrounding land-use, and local geology. All these factors should be considered in designing an effective treatment system.

Level 1 | Observational Self-Testing

Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.

Observations for Beryllium

Like many contaminants in drinking water, beryllium is potentially hazardous at levels that do not impart a noticeable taste, odor or appearance to the water. Indicators that an elevated level of beryllium may be present in your water include:

  • You are located in a geologic area with igneous and/or metamorphic rock that contain beryllium minerals (not very likely).
  • You are located in a region with historical or current use of beryllium in manufacturing, waste disposal, or the storage of coal combustion or coal ash.
  • You, or other consumers of your water source exhibit any symptoms outlined in the Health Risks for Beryllium section above.
Level 1 | Self-Test Web App
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Level 2 | Do-It-Yourself Testing

Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.

Notes on Level 2 Testing for Beryllium

At this time, we are not aware of an in-home screening test for Beryllium. If you are concerned about beryllium, it would be wise to review the health effects of beryllium, obtain a Neighborhood Environmental Report, conduct a basic in-home water screening test, and consider having a hair sample tested. If you are having problems associated with Beryllium and other metals, you might want to consider the 5Strand (Metals & Minerals Test).

Recommended Products
Crystal QuestST-CRYS-D-02 | Countertop Water Filter With Three Cartridges

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L4-methyl-tertiary">Note: Concentrations < 40 ppb</div>

View
Filter WaterST-FILT-F-03 | FW-210 Under-Sink Reverse Osmosis System

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L6-uranium">Note: Uranium less than < 0.030 mg/L</div>

View
Crystal QuestLT-CRYS-W-03 | Water Softeners & Salt-Free Water Conditioners

<div class="product-note in-L6-alkalinity">Note: For High Hardness / Alkalinity</div>

View
Neighborhood Environmental Report

Order a Neighborhood Environmental Report to learn about potential hazards in your community.

Level 3 | Informational Testing

Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 3 Testing for Beryllium

Beryllium is not commonly available in an informational water testing kit.  If you are looking for a low-cost screening option, we would recommend the ICP Elemental Scan.  For a well water or private water source that is not located in an agricultural or industrial area, we would recommend the Well Water Advance Water Test. For a well water or private water source that is located in an agricultural area or has industrial/commercial development, we would recommend the Well Water Extended Testing Kit.  For City Water users, we recommend the City Water Advanced Water Test. If you are considering the installation of a reverse osmosis unit, we would recommend the National Testing Labs Reverse Osmosis Testing Package.

Level 4 | Certified Testing

A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 4 Testing for Beryllium

When conducting this testing, it may be wise to conduct a more comprehensive scan of the water for rare earth elements.

Neighborhood Environmental Report

Order a Neighborhood Environmental Report to learn about potential hazards in your community.

Get Treatment | Beryllium

If you do have elevated levels of beryllium in your water, there are treatment technologies available now that can reduce or even completely remove it. For them to work properly, in some cases a pretreatment system will also have to be installed. Regularly scheduled water testing should be done after the treatment system is in place to make sure it is operating properly and that the problem is being controlled. Most systems will require maintenance on at least an annual basis.

Short-Term Treatment

Do not attempt to remove beryllium from your water by boiling it. This will only concentrate the level of the contaminant.

If your water does have elevated levels of beryllium, a short-term solution could be to install a point-of-use water treatment system or develop a temporary water source.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Submit a Request for Consultation with the KnowYourH20 Team. Contact Us

Long-Term Treatment

For the long-term, it may be necessary to install a more advanced water treatment system. The following are technologies that can be used to remove barium from water: reverse osmosis, ion exchange, active alumina, and distillation.

Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Not Up for A DIY? Need Help Identifying a Local KnowYourH20 Team Professional? Contact Us

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