Beryllium is a light-weight metal that is used for its exceptional strength and high heat-absorbing capability. It is used in the defense and aeronautics industries in missile and radar systems, nuclear devices, navigational systems, but also commercially in audio equipment, bicycle frames, spark-proof tools, springs and surgical equipment.
Pulmonary disease associated with inhaling beryllium has been recognized and studied since the 1940’s, and an occupational guideline for limiting exposure to beryllium has been in place since 1949. It is well established that exposure to beryllium can cause beryllium sensitization and chronic beryllium disease.
“Beryllium is arguably the most toxic, non-radioactive chemical substance to which workers will ever be exposed to,” said Bill Pioli, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Buffalo District, safety specialist.
Given how widely used beryllium is, and recognizing its harmful effects, the Buffalo District assumed the responsibility of establishing its own unique disease prevention program.
December 18, 2014 represents a watershed day in USACE and the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division. After two years of research, meetings, discussions and negotiations, a Union-Management Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed establishing the USACE, Buffalo District Chronic Beryllium Disease Prevention Program (CBDPP).
Modeled after a similar program enacted by the U.S. Congress for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Buffalo District’s CBDPP represents the first of its type within not only USACE but also within the Department of Defense.
“The Buffalo District saw a need for the CBDPP because beryllium is the primary chemical of concern within the Luckey Ohio remediation project,” said Steve Bousquet, USACE Buffalo District environmental health team leader. “We are fortunate to the have the level of expertise and knowledge, within the Buffalo District, to design and implant such a complex program.”
Design of the CBDPP began in the summer of 2012 when proactive, risk-based decision making indicated that a programmatic approach was required to control beryllium exposures. USACE Safety and Occupational Health staff researched available control paradigms and quickly found that the DOE had decades of experience in managing beryllium exposures.
“The draft Buffalo District CBDPP was developed using a comprehensive team approach involving USACE Headquarters, Centers of Expertise, a DOE consultant and multi-disciplinary Buffalo District staff,” said Pioli.
The final Buffalo District CBDPP covered roles and responsibilities, risk assessment, the Buffalo District CESO-approved occupational exposure level variance request, exposure monitoring, exposure reduction, exclusion/contaminant reduction/administrative zones, hygiene practices, engineering controls, personal protective equipment, release criteria, medical surveillance and worker counseling upon removal.
“We met regularly with James Dean, Buffalo District union president, and hammered-out a mutually agreeable settlement that resulted in the enactment of a critically important program,” said Bousquet. “The Buffalo District now has a rigorous, protective program to mitigate the health impacts associated with beryllium exposure both District-wide and specifically at the Luckey remediation project site.”