Fact Sheet: Barium


Brief Overview:
Contaminant: Barium
Category: Inorganic
Source: Epoxy sealants, spent coal
Effect: Circulatory system effects
Treatment: Ion Exchange, Reverse Osmosis, Lime Softening

Barium is a lustrous, machinable metal which exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of elements. It is used in making a wide variety of electronic components, in metal alloys, bleaches, dyes, fireworks, ceramics and glass. In particular, it is used in well drilling operations where it is directly released into the ground.

The most common ores are found in AK, AR, CA, GA, KY, MO, NV, and TN. Barite was produced at 38 mines in these states in 1973, with Nevada supplying 50% of the tonnage. Barium is released to water and soil in the discharge and disposal of drilling wastes, from the smelting of copper, and the manufacture of motor vehicle parts and accessories.

From 1987 to 1993, according to the Toxics Release Inventory barium compound releases to land and water totaled over 57 million lbs. These releases were primarily from copper smelting industries. The largest releases occurred in Arizona and Utah. The largest direct releases to water occurred in Texas.

What happens to Barium when it is released to the environment? In water, the more toxic soluble barium salts are likely to be converted to insoluble salts which precipitate. Barium does not bind to most soils and may migrate to ground water. It has a low tendency to accumulate in aquatic life.

Short-term: EPA has found barium to potentially cause the following health effects when people are exposed to it at levels above the MCL for relatively short periods of time: gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness.

Long-term: Barium has the potential to cause the following effects from a lifetime exposure at levels above the MCL: high blood pressure.

Ion Exchange, Reverse Osmosis, Lime Softening, Electrodialysis.