Beryllium in Drinking Water

What is beryllium?

Beryllium is a rare alkaline earth metal. This group also includes magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium. They occur exclusively bound in various minerals. It is named after the gemstone beryl. A beryllium compound was first extracted from it and emerald at the end of the 18th century. A hundred years later, in 1899, the pure element could be produced. As a light metal, it is rigid and brittle and is therefore used as an alloy additive. Its application areas are, for example, space and aircraft technology, tool technology and medical technology. Beryllium plays a crucial part in nuclear reactors and nuclear weapons production, alongside graphite, lead and others. It became a deadly danger in 1945 when, together with polonium, it served as a neutron source in the American atomic bomb of Hiroshima.

A brief historical fact: In the Middle Ages, transparent beryl pieces were used as magnifying glasses. The word “glasses” was derived from the Latin berillus for eyeglasses.

IVARIO Water Test Kit Promotion

How does beryllium get into drinking water?

As an oxide and hydroxide, the substance binds in soil sediments and is poorly soluble in water. Therefore, its entry through rock weathering is low, and its bioavailability is limited.

Because of its toxicity, beryllium must not enter the water cycle. This is because it produces decomposition substances that cause lasting damage in water bodies. In specific concentrations, the toxins are lethal to aquatic organisms. For this reason, the metal is classified in the CLP Regulation as carcinogenic (category 1A) and acutely toxic to the respiratory tract (category 1).

How does beryllium affect the human body?

The element has high toxicity. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has classified beryllium and its compounds as carcinogenic. The decision was made in a review in 2014 and is included in the HSE guidance on working with beryllium. Inhaled beryllium, beryllium oxide and beryllium salts can cause tumours. Years of contact lead to accumulation in the organism. The lungs are particularly affected. A distinction is made between acute pneumonitis and chronic disease progression (berylliosis). Skin contact also causes lasting damage to the skin (dermatitis) and, in the case of skin micro-injuries, severe damage up to and including necrosis. The heart, kidneys, spleen and blood are also attacked.

The daily intake of beryllium through food is between 10 and 20 µg. The organism absorbs this small amount, and a part is stored in the bones or excreted.

Drinking water contaminated with beryllium: What to do?

According to the European Drinking Water Directive, beryllium is classified as toxic but without maximum levels. The UK Drinking Water Ordinance does not specify any limit values either. However, the limit for all substances not listed, including beryllium, is 10 micrograms per litre (μg/l) for drinking water. This value was set to ensure that the intake of pollutants from drinking water is minimal and does not risk human health. The beryllium content is geologically determined and thus varies regionally. In wastewater treatment plants, wastewater contaminated with beryllium is purified using various methods. Chemical precipitation and adsorption are some of them.

Waterworks in the UK guarantee that the daily tap water flows out of the tap with exceptionally high quality by strictly controlling all parameters of the Drinking Water Ordinance.

Have beryllium levels tested

If there are doubts, a water test may help. By taking a water sample, you can clearly define which minerals or contaminants are included in your drinking water and in what concentrations. Get a water test kit in the IVARIO shop.

Leave a comment