- Material Safety Data Sheet (University of Utah)
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
- This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health
questions about barium. For more information, you may call the ATSDR Information
Center at 1-800-447-1544. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries
about hazardous substances and their health effects. This information is
important because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure
to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are
exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
- SUMMARY: Exposure to barium occurs mostly in the workplace or from drinking
contaminated water. Ingesting high levels of barium can cause problems
with the heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, and other organs. This chemical
has been found in at least 649 of 1,416 National Priorities List sites
identified by the Environmental Protection Agency.
- What is barium? (Pronounced bar'e-um)
- Barium is a silvery-white metal found in nature. It occurs
combined with other chemicals such as sulfur or carbon and oxygen. These
combinations are called compounds. Barium compounds can also be produced
- Barium compounds are used by the oil and gas industries
to make drilling muds. Drilling muds make it easier to drill through rock
by keeping the drill bit lubricated. They are also used to make paint,
bricks, tiles, glass, and rubber.
- A barium compound (barium sulfate) is sometimes used
by doctors to perform medical tests and to take x-rays of the stomach.
- What happens to barium when it enters the environment?
- * Barium gets into the air during the mining, refining,
and production * of barium compounds, and from the burning of coal and
oil. * Some barium compounds dissolve easily in water and are found in
lakes, rivers, and streams. * Barium is found in most soils and foods at
low levels. * Fish and aquatic organisms accumulate barium.
- How might I be exposed to barium?
- * Breathing very low levels in air, drinking water, and
eating food * Breathing higher levels in air while working in industries
that make or use barium compounds * Drinking water containing high levels
of barium from natural sources * Breathing air near barium mining or processing
- How can barium affect my health?
- The health effects of the different barium compounds
depend on how well the compound dissolves in water. Barium compounds that
do not dissolve well in water are not generally harmful and are often used
by doctors for medical purposes.
- Those barium compounds that dissolve well in water may
cause harmful health effects in people. Ingesting high levels of barium
compounds that dissolve well in water over the short term has resulted
- * Difficulties in breathing * Increased blood pressure
* Changes in heart rhythm * Stomach irritation * Brain swelling * Muscle
weakness * Damage to the liver, kidney, heart, and spleen.
- We don't know the effects in people of ingesting low
levels of barium over the long term. Animal studies have found increased
blood pressure and changes in the heart from ingesting barium over a long
time. We don't know the effects of barium from breathing it or from touching
- How likely is barium to cause cancer?
- The Department of Health and Human Services, the International
Agency for Research on Cancer, and the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) have not classified barium as to its human carcinogenicity.
- Barium has not been classified because there are no studies
in people and the two available animal studies were inadequate to determine
whether or not barium causes cancer.
- Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed
- There is no routine medical test to show whether you
have been exposed to barium. However, doctors can measure barium in the
blood, bones, urine, and feces, using very complex instruments. Due to
the complexity of the tests, these tests are usually done only for cases
of severe barium poisoning and for medical research.
- Has the federal government made recommendations to protect
- EPA allows 2 parts of barium per million parts of drinking
water (2 ppm). EPA requires that discharges or spills into the environment
of 10 pounds or more of barium cyanide be reported.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),
the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and
the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) have
set an occupational exposure limit of 0.5 milligrams of soluble barium
compounds per cubic meter of air (0.5 mg/m3) for an 8-hour workday, 40-hour
- The OSHA exposure limit for barium sulfate dust in air
is 5 to 15 milligrams of barium per cubic meter of air (5-15 mg/m3).
- NIOSH currently recommends that a level of 50 mg/m3 be
considered immediately dangerous to life and health. This is the exposure
level of barium that is likely to cause permanent health problems or death.
- Carcinogenicity: Ability to cause cancer. Ingesting:
Taking food or drink into your body. Long-term: Lasting one year or longer.
Milligram (mg): One thousandth of a gram. PPM: Parts per million. Short-term:
Lasting 14 days or less. Soluble: Dissolves well in liquid.
- References Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
(ATSDR). 1992. Toxicological profile for barium. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.
- Where can I get more information?
- ATSDR can tell you where to find occupational and environmental
health clinics. Their specialists can recognize, evaluate, and treat illnesses
resulting from exposure to hazardous substances. You can also contact your
community or state health or environmental quality department if you have
any more questions or concerns.
- For more information, contact:
- Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry Division
of Toxicology 1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop E-29 Atlanta, GA 30333 Phone:
1-800-447-1544 FAX: 404-639-6315
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Public Health
Service Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry ATSDR Information
Center / ATSDRIC@cdc.gov / 1-800-447-1544
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