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Group seeking ban on use of beryllium in dental products
Thursday, February 22, 2001
A government watchdog group yesterday called for a ban on beryllium in dental products, saying dental technicians are at risk of a deadly respiratory disease if improperly exposed to the metal dust.
But a national organization that represents dental lab owners says the strong, lightweight metal poses no risk if handled properly.
Beryllium, included in some alloys used in dentistry, can cause serious respiratory illness to workers who are exposed improperly. The metal also can cause cancer.
Amy Ryder, the Cleveland director of Ohio Citizen Action, said a survey of Cleveland labs showed many workers weren't aware of the risks that they might face while crafting crowns, dentures and bridges each day at work.
"A lot of these laboratories are mom and pop; there is a question as to whether or not they have the equipment to protect their employees,'' she said.
Proper ventilation systems are critical in keeping harmful dust out of the lungs of workers.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to prepare and distribute safety information to labs handling dangerous materials. According to the Citizen Action survey, four of five dental-laboratory suppliers failed to mention beryllium disease or accurately warn of the cancer risks associated with the material.
Citizen Action did not provide data on Columbus labs, and Ryder said she knew of no Ohio laboratory employees who are ill because of beryllium exposure.
Albino Perez, chairman of the health and safety committee of the National Association of Dental Laboratories, said plenty of safety precautions are in place to protect dental-lab workers.
"A total ban on this is a bit extreme,'' he said. "I think education to all parties involved would be more appropriate.''
Several Columbus-area lab owners said yesterday that they don't use alloys containing beryllium.
"To my knowledge, there might be one or two labs in the area that might be using it, but if proper precautions are taken, there's no problem,'' said Ross Gaiteri, owner of Benchmark Castings in Pickerington.
Dr. Joseph Kearns, who practices occupational medicine at Ohio State University Medical Center, said beryllium can be dangerous, but shouldn't be banned.
"It's not as much the content in the metal itself, it's the amount that gets into the air,'' he said.
If dental technicians and lab owners follow safety recommendations, they should be able to work with alloys containing beryllium, he said. Kearns said he has heard reports of beryllium disease in dental technicians, but has not seen any such patients.
Perez said the responsibility is in the hands of dental-lab operators and employees to follow safety rules and remember they are dealing with a potentially deadly substance.
"We don't dodge the fact that it can be hazardous,'' he said.
Copyright © 2001, The Columbus Dispatch