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Drinking Water

Beryllium

June 12, 2012
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What it is:

  • Beryllium is a steel-grey, brittle metal that has an atomic number of 4 and an atomic weight of 9.01.
  • It has a tendency to form ionic bonds as well as covalent bond formations.
  • The water solubility of beryllium salts is low at neutral pH.
  • Beryllium metal, alloys and oxide are all commercial products.

Occurrence:

  • Beryllium metal is used mostly in aerospace, weapons and nuclear industries. Copper/beryllium alloys are used in aerospace, electronics and mechanical industries.
  • Beryllium oxide is used in ceramic applications, mostly electronics and microelectronics.
  • Beryllium occurs in water when released from coal burning and other industries using the chemical.

Health effects:

  • Beryllium and its compounds are considered to be human carcinogens at least by inhalation.
  • Chronic ingestion of small amounts can develop intestinal lesions. It may cause damage to bones and lungs as well as develop cancer.
  • Shorter term inhalation can cause inflammation of the lungs, but due to its low solubility and uptake it is not as toxic from drinking water.

Water treatment:

  • There are several treatment methods available to lower beryllium below its MCL, such as: Activated alumina, ion exchange, lime softening coagulation/filtration and reverse osmosis.
  • It is not likely that beryllium is found above trace levels because of the insolubility of oxides and hydroxides at the normal pH range.

Regulation:

  • The method detection limit for beryllium in water is 0.001 mg/L and the maximum contaminant level is 0.004 mg/L or 4 ppb.

Sources: EPA, World Health Organization, FreeDrinkingWater.com.

Water Technology would like to thank Dr. Joseph Cotruvo for reviewing this information and providing additional content.

Dr. Cotruvo is president of Joseph Cotruvo and Associates, LLC, Water, Environment and Public Health Consultants.

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