Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: barium (Ba) from Processing Water, Wastewater, Residuals, and Excreta for Health and Environmental Protection: An Encyclopedic Dictionary

A whitish, divalent, alkaline-earth, metallic element, found naturally as barite or as witherite and at low concentrations in surface waters and wastewater effluents, used in many industries. Atomic weight = 137.34. Atomic number = 56. Specific gravity = 3.5 at 20°C. Barium salts are toxic; at sufficiently high concentrations, barium may interfere with enzyme production and cause physiological effects in humans. Maximum contaminant level (MCL) set by the USEPA for drinking water is 2.0 mg/L.


Summary Article: barium
from The Columbia Encyclopedia

(bâr'ēӘm) [Gr.,=heavy], metallic chemical element; symbol Ba; at. no. 56; at. wt. 137.327; m.p. 725 degrees Celsius; b.p. 1,640 degrees Celsius; sp. gr. 3.5 at 20 degrees Celsius; valence +2. Barium is a soft, silver-white, chemically active, poisonous metal with a face-centered cubic crystalline structure. It is an alkaline-earth metal in Group 2 of the periodic table. Its principal ore is barite (barium sulfate); it also occurs in the mineral witherite (barium carbonate). The pure metal is obtained by the electrolysis of fused barium salts or, industrially, by the reduction of barium oxide with aluminum. Barium is often used in barium-nickel alloys for spark-plug electrodes and in vacuum tubes as a drying and oxygen-removing agent. Barium oxidizes in air, and it reacts vigorously with water to form the hydroxide, liberating hydrogen. In moist air it may spontaneously ignite. It burns in air to form the peroxide, which produces hydrogen peroxide when treated with water. Barium reacts with almost all of the nonmetals; all of its water-soluble and acid-soluble compounds are poisonous. Barium carbonate is used in glass, as a pottery glaze, and as a rat poison. Chrome yellow (barium chromate) is used as a paint pigment and in safety matches. The chlorate and nitrate are used in pyrotechnics to provide a green color. Barium oxide strongly absorbs carbon dioxide and water; it is used as a drying agent. Barium chloride is used in medicinal preparations and as a water softener. Barium sulfide phosphoresces after exposure to light; it is sometimes used as a paint pigment. Barite, the sulfate ore, has many industrial uses. Because barium sulfate is virtually insoluble in water and acids, it can be used to coat the alimentary tract to increase the contrast for X-ray photography without being absorbed by the body and poisoning the subject. Barium salts give a characteristic green color in the flame test. Barium metal was first isolated in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy by electrolysis.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2018

Related Articles


Full text Article barium
Philip's Encyclopedia

(symbol Ba) Metallic element of the alkaline-earth group, discovered in 1808 by the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy . It is a soft,...

Full text Article barium (Ba)
The Encyclopedia of Ecology and Environmental Management, Blackwell Science

An element ( atomic number =56; relative atomic mass =137.327; melting point=725°C; boiling point=1140°C) with an abundance of...

Full text Article barium (Ba)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A silvery reactive metal that resembles calcium in its behaviour. It was discovered in 1808 by Sir Humphry Davy and occurs naturally as...

See more from Credo