Beryllium in freshwater and marine water

​​Toxicant default guideline values for protecting aquatic ecosystems

October 2000

Extracted from Section 8.3.7 ‘Detailed descriptions of chemicals'​ of the ANZECC & ARMCANZ (2000) guidelines.

The default guideline values (previously known as ‘trigger values’) and associated information in this technical brief should be used in accordance with the detailed guidance provided in the Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality.

Description of chemical

The major source of beryllium in the environment is the combustion of fossil fuels. It can also enter natural waters through weathering processes, atmospheric fall-out and discharges from industrial and municipal operations (Tepper 1972). The current analytical practical quantitation limit (PQL) for beryllium is 0.01 µg/L in fresh water and 0.3 µg/L in marine water (NSW EPA 2000).

The acute toxicity of beryllium to freshwater fish is dependent on water hardness, with higher toxicity in soft water (CCREM 1987). Acute toxicity to the fathead minnow (Pimephales promelas), guppy (Poecilia reticulata) and bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus) over an increasing hardness range of 20 to 400 mg/L decreased about 2 orders of magnitude (USEPA 1980a). Acute toxicity in soft water (hardness of 23 mg/L) for the most sensitive species, the guppy, ranged from 130 to 450 µg/L (Slonim 1973). Acute toxicity to the crustacean Daphnia magna was comparable to the acute toxicity to fish. No chronic tests have been conducted with freshwater fish; however, chronic effects of beryllium on Daphnia magna showed adverse effects on reproduction at concentrations of 5.3 µg/L (USEPA 1980a).


It was not possible to screen the USEPA data for the current revision. Based on the above data, an environmental concern level (ECL) (see Section of the ANZECC & ARMCANZ 2000 guidelines) of 0.13 µg/L is suggested for beryllium using an AF of 1000. This figure should only be used as an indicative interim working level. There were no marine data.


ANZECC & ARMCANZ 2000. Australian and New Zealand Guidelines for Fresh and Marine Water Quality, Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council and Agriculture and Resource Management Council of Australia and New Zealand, Canberra.

CCREM 1987. Canadian water quality guidelines. Canadian Council of Resource and Environment Ministers, Ontario.

NSW EPA 2000. Analytical Chemistry Section, Table of Trigger Values 20 March 2000, LD33/11, Lidcombe, NSW.

Slonim AR 1973. Acute toxicity of beryllium sulfate to common guppy. Journal of the Water Pollution Control Federation 45, 2110-2122.

Tepper LP 1972. Beryllium. In Metallic contaminants and human health, ed DHK Lee, Academic Press, New York, 220–223.

USEPA 1980a. Ambient water quality criteria for beryllium. Criteria and Standards Division, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington DC. EPA-440/5-80-024.​