Printer Friendly

Barium and Health.

This element has no known physiological function, it is non-essential and potentially toxic. Barium properties are similar to lead and cadmium and appear to negatively influence calcium absorption and thus bone health. In order to normalize barium levels, consideration must be given to the calcium balance. Antioxidants such as Vitamin C, E, and A, Se and Zinc, can be used for detoxification therapy.

Properties and uses

Barium is a silvery-white metal which exists in nature only in ores containing mixtures of elements. It combines with other chemicals such as sulfur or carbon and oxygen to form barium compounds, which are used by the oil and gas industries to make drilling muds. These make it easier to drill through rock by keeping the drill bit lubricated. Barium compounds are also used to make paint, bricks, ceramics, glass, and rubber. Some barium compounds, such as barium carbonate, barium chloride, and barium hydroxide, are used to make ceramics, insect and rat poisons. Barium compounds are added to aviation fuels to improve fuel performance, and for the treatment of boiler water; in the production of barium greases; as a component in sealants, paper manufacturing, and sugar refining; in animal and vegetable oil refining; and in the protection of objects made of limestone from deterioration. In other words, the industrial use of barium compounds has increased over the years.

Barium gets into the air during the mining, refining, and production of barium compounds, and from the burning of coal and oil, and the length of time that barium will last in air, land, water, or sediments depends on the form of barium released.

Barium compounds, such as barium sulfate and barium carbonate, which do not dissolve well in water, can last a long time in the environment. Barium compounds, such as barium chloride, barium nitrate, or barium hydroxide, that dissolve easily in water usually do not last in these forms for a long time in the environment. The barium in these compounds that is dissolved in water quickly combines with sulfate or carbonate that are naturally found in water and become the longer lasting forms (barium sulfate and barium carbonate).

Source of exposure

In medicine, barium sulfate is used in medical tests and to take x-rays of the gastrointestinal tract.

Two forms of barium, barium sulfate and barium carbonate, are often found in nature as underground ore deposits. Thus, barium can be found naturally in drinking water and food. Fish and aquatic organisms can accumulate barium.

Barium hydroxide and barium chloride are regularly used to remove soluble sulfate from industrial and municipal wastewater. Barium hydroxide is used as a shock treatment in non-chlorine pools.

The general population is exposed to barium through consumption of drinking water and foods, usually at low levels. Barium may also be found in the air and industrial overexposure to barium occurs mostly in the workplace through inhalation. Workers in barium mining or processing industries and individuals who reside near such industries might be exposed to relatively high levels, primarily through the inhalation of fugitive dust containing barium compounds. The most recent occupational exposure estimates indicate that about 10,000 people were potentially exposed to barium and about 474,000 to barium compounds in workplace environments in the United States in 1980 (NIOSH 1989a). Barium and barium compounds have been found in at least 798 of the 1,684 National Priority List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as show in the following graphic.

Health Effects

The health effects of the different barium compounds depend on how well the compound dissolves in water or in the stomach contents. Barium compounds that do not dissolve well, such as barium sulfate, are generally not harmful.

Barium has been found to potentially cause gastrointestinal disturbances and muscular weakness when people are exposed to levels above the EPA drinking water standards for relatively short periods of time. People who eat or drink amounts of barium above background levels found in food and water for a short period may experience vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, difficulties in breathing, increased or decreased blood pressure, numbness around the face, and muscle weakness. Eating or drinking very large amounts of barium compounds that easily dissolve can cause changes in heart rhythm or paralysis and possibly death. Animals that drank barium over long periods had damage to the kidneys, decreases in body weight, some died.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have not classified barium as to its carcinogenicity. The EPA has determined that barium is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans following ingestion and that there is insufficient information to determine whether it will be carcinogenic to humans following inhalation exposure.

We do not know whether children will be more or less sensitive than adults to barium toxicity. A study in rats that swallowed barium found a decrease in newborn body weight; we do not know if a similar effect would be seen in humans.


Barium can be detected in body tissues such as bones, hair, and nail. Hair results do, to some degree, resemble the calcium and barium concentration in bone. Barium is also detected in blood, urine, and feces.

The geometric mean barium level in urine measured in the U.S. general population aged 6 and older is reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as 1.44 [micro]g/g creatinine.

EPA has set a limit of 2.0 milligrams of barium per liter of drinking water 2.0 mg/L or 2 ppm.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set Permissible Exposure Limits (PELs) of 0.5 milligrams of soluble barium compounds per cubic meter of workplace air (0.5 mg/[m.sup.3]) for 8 hour shifts and 40 hour work weeks. OSHA limits for barium sulfate dust are 15 mg/[m.sup.3] of total dust and 5 mg/[m.sup.3] for respirable fraction.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) of 0.5 mg/[m.sup.3] for soluble barium compounds. The NIOSH has set RELs of 10 mg/[m.sup.3] (total dust) for barium sulfate and 5 mg/[m.sup.3] (respirable fraction).

Treatment & Chelation

Potassium is an effective antagonist of the cardiotoxic and paralyzing effects of barium in animals and may be a useful antidote in cases of acute barium poisoning. The precise dosage is not established, but ATDSR reports that large amounts of potassium chloride IV may be required. Poison Centers do not provide information regarding the chelation of barium centers.

Since barium has similar properties to lead, the treatment of a chronic barium overexposure or low level toxicity may be similar to that of lead. As the following table shows, oral DMSA might have the potential to chelate barium, especially after barium ingestion. We compared the mean value of over 12000 baseline urines with those from over 9000 urines after oral DMSA chelation and found a minor increase in barium excretion only. Similar results were noticed after intravenous chelation with EDTA.


It must be pointed out that only few of the samples in these studies came from barium-exposed people In the DMSA group, barium values ranged from 0.002 mcg/g creatinine up to 1600mcg/g creatinine. The standard deviation was 34mcg/g creatinine (mean 1.96mcg/g crea). Hence from this data we cannot conclude that DMSA or EDTA are suitable for barium chelation. More studies and evaluations are needed.

Preventing barium uptake by supporting the calcium metabolism might be a more suitable treatment method, and antioxidant therapy might also be a suitable option but again, more studies are needed to support these claims.

About the author:

Dr. Blaurock-Busch is research director at Micro Trace Minerals Laboratory of Germany. Her research into metal analysis and chelation has been published worldwide. Her textbooks are teaching materials at medical associations and universities. more information, or


* Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2013. Toxicological Profile for Barium and Compounds (Update). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

* Dart R., Medical Toxicology 3rd ed. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2004

by: Dr. Eleonore Blaurock-Busch
COPYRIGHT 2018 Original Internist, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Blaurock-Busch, Eleonore
Publication:Original Internist
Article Type:Report
Date:Dec 1, 2018
Previous Article:Dietary Supplements For Osteoarthritis as an Alternative to NSAIDS: Commentary on the Available Research.
Next Article:A Natural Approach to Manage Elevated Blood Lipids; A Pilot Study.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2022 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |