Los Alamos National Laboratory, located in New Mexico, has issued letters notifying about 2,000 current and former employees, as well as guests, that they may have been exposed to beryllium in the lab, which may put them at risk for disease. Concern over possible exposure to the metal, which is purified for use in nuclear reactors and weapons, was raised in November after a box containing beryllium was received at the laboratory’s short-term storage facility. The package had damage, or degradation of the packing materials, which prompted a test for contamination. Surface contamination was found but the box was not the source; the source has yet to be determined. The surface had not been tested for contamination since 2001, so anyone who entered the facility since then has been alerted of potential exposure.
Beryllium is hazardous only when particles are inhaled and no traces were found in the air at the facility. If inhaled, beryllium can cause chronic beryllium disease, which impairs lung function in those susceptible. Exposure to visitors is highly unlikely due to the short amount of time they were in the facility and the activities they performed. So far there have been no reports of sickness.