This is a fact sheet about a chemical that may be found in some public or
private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems if found
in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United States
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What is Beryllium and how is it used?
Beryllium is a metal found in natural deposits as ores containing other
elements, and in some precious stones such as emeralds and aquamarine.
The greatest use of beryllium is in making metal alloys for nuclear
reactors and the aerospace industry.
Why is Beryllium being regulated?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires
EPA to determine safe levels of chemicals in drinking water which do or
may cause health problems. These non-enforceable levels, based solely on
possible health risks and exposure, are called Maximum Contaminant Level
The MCLG for beryllium has been set at 4 parts per billion (ppb)
because EPA believes this level of protection would not cause any of the
potential health problems described below.
Based on this MCLG, EPA has set an enforceable standard called a
Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLGs as
possible, considering the ability of public water systems to detect and
remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies.
The MCL has also been set at 4 ppb because EPA believes, given
present technology and resources, this is the lowest level to which
water systems can reasonably be required to remove this contaminant
should it occur in drinking water.
These drinking water standards and the regulations for ensuring
these standards are met, are called National Primary Drinking Water
Regulations. All public water supplies must abide by these regulations.
What are the health effects?
Short-term: EPA has found barium to potentially cause the following health
effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for
relatively short periods of time: inflammation of the lungs when
inhaled; less toxic in drinking water.
Long-term: Beryllium has the potential to cause the following
effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: damage to
bones and lungs; cancer.
How much Beryllium is produced and released to the environment?
Production of beryllium metal was 490,000 lbs. in 1986. It is released
principally in the smoke stacks and ash wastes of power plants which
burn coal. It is also found in discharges from other industrial and
municipal operations. Rocket exhaust products also consist of various
From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory
beryllium releases to land and water totaled over 340,000 lbs. These
releases were primarily from copper rolling and drawing industries which
use it as a hardener in alloys. The largest releases occurred in
Pennsylvania and Ohio.
What happens to Beryllium when it is released to the environment?
Very little is known about what happens to beryllium compounds when
released to the environment. It appears unlikely to leach to ground
water when released to land. Erosion or runoff of beryllium compounds
into surface waters is not likely to be in a soluble form.
How will Beryllium be detected in and removed from my drinking
The regulation for beryllium became effective in 1994. Between 1993 and
1995, EPA required your water supplier to collect water samples once and
analyze them to find out if beryllium is present above 4 ppb. If it is
present above this level, the system must continue to monitor this
contaminant every 3 months.
If contaminant levels are found to be consistently above the MCL,
your water supplier must take steps to reduce the amount of beryllium so
that it is consistently below that level. The following treatment
methods have been approved by EPA for removing beryllium: Activated
Alumina, Coagulation/filtration, Ion Exchange, Lime Softening, Reverse
How will I know if Beryllium is in my drinking water?
If the levels of beryllium exceed the MCL, the system must notify the
public via newspapers, radio, TV and other means. Additional actions,
such as providing alternative drinking water supplies, may be required
to prevent serious risks to public health.
This is a factsheet about a chemical that may be found in some
public or private drinking water supplies. It may cause health problems
if found in amounts greater than the health standard set by the United
States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Drinking Water Standards:
|Mclg: 4 ppb (parts per billion)
Mcl: 4 ppb
Beryllium Releases to Water and Land, 1987 to 1993 (in pounds):
|Top Five States|
|Copper rolling, drawing
|Nonferrous metal smelting
|Nonferrous rolling, drawing
|Blast furnaces, steelworks
Note: This fact sheet is part of a larger publication
adapted from U.S. EPA publication: EPA National Primary Drinking Water
* Water/Land totals only include facilities with releases greater
than a certain amount - usually 1000 to 10,000 lbs.