Barium is a natural element but cannot be found in its pure form because of its high reaction to air. This element has a lot of real-world uses, but barium exposure may cause serious health issues.
Exposure to barium may come from environmental pollution, occupational exposure and groundwater contamination, and cigarette smoking. Although used in medical procedures, mishandling the compound may pose potential danger to the individual, and this includes barium poisoning.
In this article, we will delve into some of the important things you need to know about barium and the dangers of barium poisoning.
What is Barium?
Barium was discovered in 1774 by Sir Humphrey Davy in which he reduced it into metal alongside the emergence of electrolysis back in 1808. It oxidizes easily and decomposes after exposure to air.
Barium can only be found in combination with other elements such as carbonate and sulfate. Since it is not found as a free element, it is through electrolysis of barium chloride that several forms of barium compounds can be produced.
What Are The Common Uses of Barium?
Barium is significantly used in paints, glassmaking and X-ray diagnostic work. It is also used as a “getter” in vacuum tubes due to its attraction to oxygen.
Specific forms of bariums are used as follows:
- Barium chlorate and barium nitrate produce a green color that is used in pyrotechnics.
- It is used in the production of chloric acid. It is highly toxic to human as well to the environment. It is advised for proper disposal to prevent accidental ingestion or inhalation which may cause death to an individual.
- Barium carbonate is used as rat poison, ceramic glazes, brick and cement. In making glazes, it acts as a crystallizing agent mixed with other compounds to produce unique colors that cannot be achieved by other means.
- Barium sulfate is an odorless, crystalline inorganic compound that is insoluble in water and used in making rubber. It is also used as a weight agent in oil well drilling fluids, by increasing hydrostatic pressure and thereby preventing possible oil blowout while doing the drilling process.
- Some diagnostic methods may need a chemical to help trace any existing blockage within the patient’s system, like what is used in taking an upper or lower gastrointestinal x-ray where a barium meal is given to the patient to be able to trace the intestinal tract.
Is Barium Poisonous?
Water-soluble forms of barium are considered toxic, adversely affecting the nervous system. Depending on the severity of the case, barium poisoning may cause a wide range of health issues from general weakness to paralysis.
Most people are unaware of the many kinds of toxic materials that can be found in a television unit. This is why it is recommended to properly dispose old and malfunctioning television sets to avoid leakage of toxic metals such as barium, arsenic, mercury, cadmium and lead, which may cause groundwater contamination.
Cigarette smoking has been proven to be hazardous to human health, but not much has been discussed about the specific chemicals that primarily make it poisonous. Barium, along with other chemicals, can be found in cigarettes.
Signs and Symptoms of Barium Poisoning
Barium may not be as popular as other elements in the periodic table, but it is found to have many uses especially in creating household products as well as in making of rubber products, fluorescent bulbs, and paint pigment.
Barium poisoning happens when the metal finds its way into an individual’s system and accumulates in large amounts, which may affect the normal functioning of the nervous system and other organs of the body.
Barium poisoning may pose the following signs and symptoms:
- Damage to the brain, kidney, heart and liver
- Rapid heartbeat
- High blood pressure
- Muscle weakness
- Numbing of the muscles
- Increased salivation
Barium poisoning is a serious matter. If symptoms are left untreated, it may cause more serious damage to the individual, and may even lead to death.
The first recorded case of barium poisoning was in 1868, involving barium nitrate.
A fatal dose of barium salt is between 1 to 15 g, and death follows within one hour of non-treatment. Post-mortem findings of barium poisoning include bleeding of the stomach cavity, inflammation of the stomach and duodenum, left ventricle hemorrhage, and severe pulmonary edema.
Who are at risk of barium of exposure?
People working at industrial sites as well as consumers who purchase products containing barium are at risk because there is a possibility of accidental ingestion. It is extremely dangerous for barium salts to be accidentally mixed with food or water without your knowledge.
Test for Barium Poisoning
The level of barium in the body can be measured through blood, bone, urine and fecal samples. However, the duration of exposure cannot be determined. If you are exposed to barium and have felt any of the symptoms mentioned earlier, immediately seek professional help.
Here are some of the barium tests available in the market:
- Toxic Element Exposure Hair Testing Kit: This product has the ability to detect exposure to a wide range of metals and toxic substances including barium, using a hair sample. This test can detect barium in the system for up to six months from the last exposure.
- 17-Panel Water Analysis Test: If you want to check whether your drinking water is safe, you may use this kit to detect barium and other elements and metals in a water sample.
- Toxic Metal in Soil and Water Home Testing Kit: This kit can identify the presence of barium in soil, groundwater, and drinking water.
Treatment for Barium Poisoning
Continuous cardiac monitoring is required when an individual is suspected to have barium poisoning as the heart can be severely affected. Establish a clear airway for proper ventilation.
Vital signs and potassium level should also be monitored. Potassium levels in particular should be carefully checked, and there may be a need to provide potassium supplementation.
Aspiration through gastric lavage may be suggested to remove ingested poison. A dose of magnesium sulfate is given to the patient (250 mg/kg for children, or up to 30 grams for adults). As an alternative treatment, sodium sulfate may be given.
In case the patient is vomiting, have the patient lean forward or lay down on his side.
To prevent children from untoward exposure to barium and other poisonous compounds, barium-containing chemicals should be kept away from them.
In addition, ensure that you buy from trusted sellers when purchasing fresh fish and seafood. Some lakes may be contaminated with industrial wastes that some fish may have ingested.
We are exposed to potential risks every day. Unknowingly, there are products that have been created and developed for the purpose of making things work positively or act as aid in certain situations. However, along with the benefits that these chemicals may bring come the dangers that we should be aware of.
It is best to always check the labels of all the products that we purchase, and store potentially hazardous products away from children all the time.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Be wise and vigilant before it gets too late.