Five incidents involving Livermore Lab's handling of the toxic metal beryllium have prompted two investigations.

A team of outside experts audited beryllium work at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory last month and federal regulators are set to follow up with their own review in September.

Some of the incidents involved workers being unknowingly exposed to beryllium dust, which if inhaled can lead to beryllium sensitivity and chronic beryllium disease, an incurable and potentially fatal lung condition.

In one of the incidents, the lab failed for five months to notify 178 contract workers with GSE Construction of Livermore who were exposed to the metal during a four-year seismic retrofit of a machine shop that ended in December 2006.

Typically, only a small percentage of people who are exposed to beryllium, a very strong, lightweight metal used in nuclear weapons work, will be diagnosed with sensitivity.

But studies show that one-third to two-thirds of those who do will go on to develop chronic beryllium disease within five to 10 years of their diagnosis.

There is some evidence that continued exposure to beryllium after testing positive for sensitivity may make it more likely that a person will go on to develop the disease, making prompt notification of exposure even more important.

"We believe that further exposure accelerates and makes more likely than not, going on to chronic beryllium disease from sensitivity,"