Researchers at NIST have produced a new reference material for beryllium. The rare-earth metal used as a hardener in high-performance alloys and ceramics can cause berylliosis — a chronic, incurable and sometimes fatal illness. The new reference material is expected to dramatically improve methods used to monitor workers’ exposure and aid in contamination control as well as toxicological research.
The new Standard Reference Material, Beryllium Oxide Powder (SRM 1877), consists of high-fired crystalline beryllium oxide that has been thoroughly characterized physically and chemically. The particles that make up the powder have an average diameter of about 200 nanometers and have been separated into aggregated clusters that will pass through a 20 mesh screen. NIST scientists Greg Turk and Mike Winchester used a high-performance inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry technique developed at NIST to certify the ratio of pure beryllium in the beryllium oxide.
According to Winchester, previous analytical tests for exposure monitoring relied on an easily dissolved form of beryllium that was not representative of typical field exposures. The new SRM more closely mimics the form of beryllium to which workers would be exposed. This should facilitate toxicological studies that are more representative and informative, plus allow more sensitive monitoring and better clean ups of contaminated areas.