OBJECTIVES: To describe relative hazards in sectors of the beryllium industry, risk factors of beryllium disease and sensitisation related to work process were sought in a beryllium manufacturing plant producing pure metal, oxide, alloys, and ceramics. METHODS: All 646 active employees were interviewed; beryllium sensitisation was ascertained with the beryllium lymphocyte proliferation blood test on 627 employees; clinical evaluation and bronchoscopy were offered to people with abnormal test results; and industrial hygiene measurements related to work processes taken in 1984-93 were reviewed. RESULTS: 59 employees (9.4%) had abnormal blood tests, 47 of whom underwent bronchoscopy. 24 new cases of beryllium disease were identified, resulting in a beryllium disease prevalence of 4.6%, including five known cases (29/632). Employees who had worked in ceramics had the highest prevalence of beryllium disease (9.0%). Employees in the pebble plant (producing beryllium metal) who had been employed after 1983 also had increased risk, with a prevalence of beryllium disease of 6.4%, compared with 1.3% of other workers hired in the same period, and a prevalence of abnormal blood tests of 19.2%. Logistic regression modelling confirmed these two risk factors for beryllium disease related to work processes and the dependence on time of the risk at the pebble plant. The pebble plant was not associated with the highest gravimetric industrial hygiene measurements available since 1984. CONCLUSION: Further characterisation of exposures in beryllium metal production may be important to understanding how beryllium exposures confer high contemporary risk of beryllium disease.
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