Beryllium, an exotic, rare-earth metal used as a hardener in high-performance alloys and ceramics, can cause berylliosis – a chronic, incurable and sometimes fatal illness. Beryllium is used in the nuclear industry and in the manufacture of aircraft and supercolliders.

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 new reference material is expected to dramatically improve methods used to monitor workers’ exposure and aid in contamination control as well as toxicological research.

According to NIST scientists, previous analytical tests for exposure monitoring relied on an easily dissolved form of beryllium that was not representative of what people would be exposed to in the field. The new SRM mimics the form of beryllium to which workers would be exposed much more closely and should facilitate much more representative and informative toxicological studies, more sensitive monitoring and more effective clean up of contaminated areas.

The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration sponsored the development of the new SRM. NIST collaborators included the Savannah River Site in Aiken S.C.; the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn.; Bureau Veritas in Novi, Mich.; and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in Morgantown, W.Va.

Standard Reference Materials are among the most widely distributed and used products from NIST. The agency prepares, analyzes and distributes more than a thousand different materials that are used throughout the world to check the accuracy of instruments and test procedures used in manufacturing, clinical chemistry, environmental monitoring, electronics, criminal forensics and dozens of other fields. For more information, see NIST’s SRM Web page.