Hanford, PNNL beryllium study set for release

A study on beryllium disease at Hanford will be released Sept. 21 and 22.
A study on beryllium disease at Hanford will be released Sept. 21 and 22. Tri-City Herald

The results of an epidemiological study focused on preventing chronic beryllium disease based on data from Hanford workers will be released at Tri-City area meetings Sept. 21 and 22.

The study was conducted by National Jewish Health in Denver, a leader in respiratory disease, including chronic beryllium disease.

The lung disease can develop in people who breathe in fine particles of the metal beryllium, particularly if they have a genetic sensitivity to it. There is no cure, but treatment can slow the progression of the disease.

Hanford workers may have been exposed to beryllium when they machined the caps on fuel for reactors that produced plutonium. The fuel caps were mostly zirconium with some beryllium. Workers also may have been exposed by breathing in fine particles of beryllium that remained in dust, including in ventilation systems, long after fuel production ceased at Hanford.

The study is the first to look extensively at where affected employees worked and what they did at Hanford, said researchers when they were recruiting volunteers at Hanford and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the study in late 2012.

Results could help the Department of Energy better protect Hanford workers from beryllium exposure and help guide medical surveillance of current and former workers at risk of the disease, researchers said then.

The study recruited almost 250 current and former workers at Hanford and PNNL, who provided information about their work history, possible beryllium exposure and health.

The study looks at chronic beryllium disease and beryllium sensitization. The diagnosis of sensitization is done through a blood test that shows the immune system recognizes beryllium from a past exposure to it. Researchers also studied workers who have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis.

The Department of Energy hired National Jewish Health to conduct the study, which was recommended by the DOE Hanford Corrective Action Plan in 2010 to better protect Hanford workers from exposure to beryllium.

Three 90-minute presentations on the study results are planned. They will be at 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Richland Public Library, 955 Northgate Drive, and at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sept. 22 in Room 40 of the Health and Safety Building at the HAMMER training center, 2890 Horn Rapids Road, near Richland.

Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews