Los Alamos National Laboratory has notified nearly 2,000 current and former employees and visitors that they may have been exposed to beryllium in the lab and may be at risk of disease. Letters have gone out to all of the potential victims. Concern over possible exposure to the hard, gray metal, which is purified for use in nuclear weapons and reactors and also used in bicycle frames and golf clubs, was first raised last November, when a box containing beryllium was received at the laboratory’s short-term storage facility. Since the package appeared to have damage or degradation of the packing materials, the area was tested for additional contamination.
Surface contamination was found, but it turned out that the box was not the source. Thus far, the source has not been determined. Since the contaminated area had not been tested for the presence of beryllium since 2001, everyone who has entered the restricted-access area since then is being notified. The laboratory covers 36 square miles and has nearly 10,000 employees. According to reports, only building at one technical area is involved.
Beryllium is hazardous only when its fine, particulate form is inhaled. It was found on surfaces, not in the air. According to a spokesman for the lab, the alert was sent because they felt it was the responsible, prudent thing to do to let people know this contamination was discovered and to answer their questions if they have any concern about potential for exposure. Thus far, there have been no reports of sickness.
The laboratory said about 240 employees and 1,650 visitors were potentially at risk because they visited the contaminated areas. Chronic beryllium disease, which can impair lung function in people who are susceptible. The employees, because of their more frequent contact, would appear to be at the greatest risk. An operator is available at the laboratory at 505-665-7233 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain Time, Monday through Friday to answer questions.
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