In 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.