Government warns that toxic metal poses health threat to dental lab workers

Tuesday, April 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The federal government is warning dental laboratories that workers could be exposed to hazardous levels of beryllium if they inhale dust that contains the toxic metal when working on crowns or bridges.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the warning Tuesday after a dental lab technician was diagnosed with chronic beryllium disease, a debilitating and often fatal lung disease.

``Inhaling beryllium dust at some concentrations is extremely hazardous _ sometimes deadly,'' said OSHA Administrator John Henshaw. ``We are concerned that dental lab technicians are continuing to contract the disease.''

The disease can develop within months after initial exposure, or even years later. OSHA's bulletin recommends engineering controls, work practices, training and protective equipment that labs can take to reduce exposure.

Symptoms include shortness of breath, dry cough, fatigue, weight loss, loss of appetite, fever or night sweats.

Not all dental alloys contain beryllium, and technicians should inquire about the contents of the alloys they are using, OSHA said. Dental lab workers are at risk when they inhale dust containing beryllium when working on items such as dental crowns, bridges and partial denture frameworks. Dust particles containing beryllium also can become lodged under the skin, causing lesions.

Employees cannot be exposed to more than 2 micrograms of beryllium per cubic meter of air for an eight-hour time-weighted average, OSHA's current federal regulation says. But the agency is reviewing whether to tighten the standard.