A REVIEW OF THE TOXICOLOGY OF BERYLLIUM WITH REFERENCE TO DRINKING WATER
Report No FR0069

M Baker and J K Fawell

Feb 1990

SUMMARY

I OBJECTIVES

To review the information on the toxicity of beryllium with reference to drinking water, and to discuss the setting of a drinking water guide level for the element.

II REASONS

There is a need to provide water suppliers with sound guidance on the maximum levels of toxic substances that should be permitted in drinking water. The WHO is undertaking a review of its drinking water guidelines for a range of substances. This review is part of the UK water industry's contribution to that process of establishing new guidelines based on a sound scientific assessment of the latest available data.

III CONCLUSIONS

Beryllium has a number of important minor uses, often based on its heat resistance. Beryllium compounds have differing solubilities in water and it is normally present in drinking water at concentrations of less than 1 g/1, if at all. Oral exposure seems unlikely to be of concern, since data indicate that absorption by this route is poor and most beryllium salts are not soluble at physiological pH, frequently forming colloidal beryllium hydroxides, beryllium phosphates, or other poorly soluble particulates. IARC consider beryllium a suspect carcinogen, however this relates to studies by inhalation or injection. The most appropriate available study on which the base a guide level is a two year study with rats in which beryllium sulphate was given in drinking water.

IV RECOMMENDATIONS

There is a need for further studies on the potential carcinogenicity of appropriate beryllium compounds by the oral route. There is also a need for modern data on the occurrence of beryllium in drinking water.

V RESUME OF CONTENTS

The report reviews the routes of exposure of man to beryllium and assesses their relative importance. It describes the known mechanisms of beryllium toxicity and concludes that present knowledge indicates there is not a high risk of exposure to toxic levels of beryllium in drinking water. However, beryllium is a suspect carcinogen by the inhalation route and there are only limited modern data on the occurrence of beryllium in drinking water.

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