Beryllium Update

BerylliumIn the last few days I have received quite an education about beryllium, thanks to the distributed intelligence of the internet. After the Swedish anthrax post got linked all over the blogosphere, the comments and emails started coming in.

The latest is an email from a Russian reader, G.O.:

Beryllium oxide powder is extremely deadly.

The killer is beryllium oxide which causes berylliosis — a progressive chronic disease similar to asbestosis but with a very fast incubation period; it usually kills in few weeks. One inhale of beryllium oxide dust is a sure death sentence. No cure.

Before the danger of Be-oxide was recognized, workers involved in the fabrication of Be-ceramic died, also died their families and even pets. In the USSR communal apartments all the occupants of Be-contaminated apartments died. (People brought minute amounts of Be-oxide on their clothes).

Beryllium oxide is a superior ceramic; it has a very high temperature work range — over 3000 degrees Celsius. Most remarkable (and unique): Be-oxide is good a dielectric at very high temperature. Be-oxide is similar to aluminum oxide in mechanical properties and adhesion to the base metal. This is the reason why Be metal is relatively benign – unless it is ground into a powder. Fine Be oxide powder is indestructible and extremely deadly.

So… even though beryllium is not radioactive, it sounds like it might be dangerous in the hands of the terrorists.

Previous beryllium-related posts are here and here.

2 thoughts on “Beryllium Update

  1. Any powder will persist, burrow into every thing, and leave sufficient traces for any forensic scientist. Something as unique as Be oxide would make linking up terrorist to victim an easy task.

    No terrorists handling methods can obscure the presence of something like this. So, if deception and stealth are criteria, this is a lousy choice. Instead, you need something from more diffult areas…(TBD)

  2. And why should a forensic scientist
    concern a terrorist?

    Police find his body a month later
    in some hotel room and this matters?

    Still, I am not overly concerned
    about the exotic attack. It is one
    thing to have a scientist working
    for a terrorist organization and,
    maybe another,to have him carry out
    the attack. It could happen but as
    of yet it hasn’t.

    This makes the use of exotic poison
    less likely.

    Aum Shin Ryuko or whatever the name
    of that Japanese cult made a good
    sarin nerve agent but failed to
    deliver it effectively, thank God.

    Richard Reid had a novel delivery
    system for an airborne bomb but he
    too, being who and what he was, was
    unable to carry out the inspired
    scheme of his masters.

    The difficulty in finding a ‘good’
    suicide bomber must vex al Qaeda.
    Mohammed Atta’s don’t grow on trees

    I did count a train yesterday that
    passed and kept me stopped by the
    tracks for awhile. 120 cars went by
    and as I tallied them I counted 5
    that were chlorine tank cars. The
    first two passed by with perhaps 10
    or 20 cars seperating them, then
    towards the end of the train, 3 of
    the tankers passed by in a row.

    Don’t know if they were full or if
    they are dispersed down the length
    of a mile long train for safety or
    what but even a Richard Reid, armed
    with a .50 calibre rifle could have
    ventilated those tankers with ease.

    I know DOT regulations require
    hazardous cargoes be labeled as
    such but surely they might want to
    use a system that the Richard Reids
    of the world might not be able to
    sit at a train crossing and read.

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