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Old 09-12-2009, 10:07 PM #1
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Default Beryllium Oxide Safety

I was prompted to post this after coming across a 800 pound bin full of cracked/broken/shattered ion laser tubes while *****ter diving. These tubes were the older variety which were made from BeO.

BeO is one of the most harmful nonradioactive compounds on the planet. It is also one of the most useful ceramics because it can take very high temperatures. The problem is that when BeO is cracked or broken, it tends to form a very fine powder which can easily be inhaled. This powder can cause a horrible condition where it essentially destroys the lungs.

Seeing as many hobbyist have and use small aircooled argon lasers, it is a very relevant subject. The tubes in the lasers are very fragile and could easily break if the head is dropped, or knocked wrong.

If you do manage to break a tube here is what to do:

1. Turn off all fans/AC/heater or anything which moves air, including computers.
2. Get a large plastic garbage bag and, without touching the head with bare hands, put it in the bag.
3. Seal the bag by tying knots in it several times. Put that bag inside another and set it on solid ground outside.
4. If you were using the laser on a desk or hard surface, get a wet sponge and wipe up the area, even if there is no apparent dust.
5. Throw away the sponge and repeat step 4.
6. Call your local hazmat or take the head to a hazerdous materials disposal site. Throwing it away in the garbage or taking it to a dump is illegal and can result in huge fines.
7. Allow the room to air out for at least a day without people in it.

Do not attempt to save anything from the laser head, it is not worth it, whatever could have been in contact with the dust is very toxic.

Hopefully no one has to deal with the problem of disposing of damaged lasers.



Last edited by Laser_Ben; 09-13-2009 at 12:45 AM.
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Old 09-12-2009, 11:17 PM #2
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

Thanks for the post Ben. I know that machinists who had to work beryllium mirrors were in danger of lung cancer from a single exposure. Beryllium mirrors were used in atomic weapons to focus neutrons on the target.
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Old 09-13-2009, 12:02 AM #3
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

BeO is somewhat like asbestos in its dangers. If left unscaved, it poses little or no danger.

If you just -break- a BeO part, the risk is not that great. It gets really dangerous when people attempt operations on the materials that create lots of fine particles, such as sawing, drilling holes into it, or polishing it seems.

BeO is used because it has a pretty unique combination of properties: its a pretty good electrical insulator, and a very good thermal conductor as far as non metals will go. It's fairly commonly used in RF power transistors and even tubes too, and such devices carry warning labels not to mess with their innards.
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Old 09-13-2009, 12:14 AM #4
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

BeO is classed as "very toxic", which to someone working in e.g. a chemistry lab is nothing unusual. There's something called a HMIS-rating (Hazardous Materials Identification System), where BeO has a Health rating of 3 (serious hazard) - top is 4, severe hazard. It's dangerous, yes, but there's worse things out there. So like Benm said, if you do break something, dispose of it carefully and responsibly, but there's no need to panic.

About these tubes - are they (nearly) pure BeO, or glass containing BeO? (In the latter case, the risk would be massively reduced.)
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Old 09-13-2009, 12:21 AM #5
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

I used to work in a lab environment, so perhaps i see things in a different perspective when safety is concerned - dealing with real risk vs theoretical hazards.

Chances are the whole tube is made up of BeO. Its a ceramic material not unlike alumina, and very well suited to construct high-temperature equipment like radio tubes or gas lasers.

BeO isnt -that- toxic acutely, but the risk of cancer as result on dust inhalation poses a risk. These are nasty risks to deal with - you can be happily drilling away at those BeO tubes for a decade, suffering no noticable ill effect, only to die of lung cancer 5 years after that.
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Old 09-13-2009, 12:39 AM #6
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by Laser_Ben View Post
5. Throw away the sponge and repeat step 5.
Found a little typo in there

Thanks for the saftey advises
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Old 09-13-2009, 01:17 AM #7
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

Quote:
Originally Posted by game-genie View Post
Found a little typo in there
Thanks, fixed.
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Old 09-13-2009, 02:55 AM #8
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

It's good to have this up here, maybe it should be stickied in the gas lasers section.
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Old 09-13-2009, 03:23 AM #9
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

I agree with MarioMaster, this is definitely important for everyone, especially those with friends who have argons, and aren't members of this forum. +1 to Laser_Ben for the safety lesson.
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Old 09-13-2009, 10:40 PM #10
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

As far as disposal goes, according to wikipedia:

Quote:
BeO powder is carcinogenic if the powder is ingested or inhaled and may cause chronic beryllium disease. However, once fired into solid form, it is safe to handle as long as it is not subjected to any machining that creates dust.[6]

Beryllium oxide ceramic is not a hazardous waste under Federal law and its use is not banned, restricted or otherwise limited by any country worldwide.
So it would seem that you could legally throw the whole thing in the trash, though i'd personally think it could pose some danger to people working with trash compactors and such.

The reality is that the dust from a single tube braking probably doenst amount to very much. Things like dilling, sanding, sawing etc produce a large amount of dust that will cause problems with chronic exposure.
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Old 09-14-2009, 02:17 AM #11
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

I don't know where that applies to, but here in California, it is illegal, maybe it is just a local law?
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Old 09-14-2009, 06:36 AM #12
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

In the german wiki it says that the processing of BeO is strictly controlled since 30 years, but it's not clear whether that means "in Germany" or worldwide or what exactly constitutes "processing".

In any case, knowing the ceramic is a potentially serious threat, it should be treated as hazardous even if you're not legally required to do so. I think it's likely there is no legislation simply because the "intended" use was in military, industrial and laboratory environments; I'm not aware that it was used in "common" items - unlike the now infamous asbestos.
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Old 09-16-2009, 02:37 PM #13
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

The stuff is used in consumer electronics as well.. for example in factory-made HAM transmitters: those still contain output transistors that rely on BeO as a thermal mounting base. It could also be used in computer chips that handle a lot of heat, though i dont think the main lines of intel or amd cpu's use any.

Most consumers will not be aware of it, as the finished radios usually do not carry a warning, although the transistors data sheet does.

The question remains is what to do with it: you could perhaps drop it at a recycling station that takes chemical domestic waste (such as burnt out fluorescent lights), although i'm affraid staff there might have no clue what it is or how to dipose of it.

Mind you, the stuff is only dangerous when doing mechanical operations on it, and would pose to danger at all once burried in a landfill.
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Old 09-18-2009, 07:15 AM #14
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

Nice work

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Old 09-19-2009, 08:12 AM #15
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

what the heck is wrong with you? you posted "nice work" in six threads in a row! leave that spamming sht to the banned people!

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Old 09-19-2009, 09:54 AM #16
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Default Re: Beryllium Oxide Safety

As far as I'm aware BeO plasma tubes are pretty solid things. They'd need a bit of a fair drop to break them, especially the air cooled tubes which are short and fat and have thick walls.

If you were ever to break a tube do as laser_ben suggested in the original post.
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