The majority of naturally occurring barium sulphate (BaSO4) is used in oil and natural gas production. Barium sulphate is used to increase the density of drilling muds and in this way, rocks can move freely and thus prevents the borehole from becoming blocked up. Technical applications include fillers and additives in products such as linings for brake pads and clutches as well as floor linings. The medical field makes use of barium sulphate in X-ray contrast agents and in bone cement where in most cases a mixture of micro- and nano-scaled particles is used. Synthetically produced barium sulphate is known as “permanent white” and is used mainly in the paint industry (base coat and fillers in automotive coatings, industrial coatings, paints for the construction, wood and printing industries).
How can I come into contact with this material?
The consumer rarely comes into contact with barium sulphate as it is used mainly as filling material during the manufacturing of various technical products. For medical applications however the situation is totally different since barium sulphate is administered directly to humans either as an X-ray contrast agent for improved imaging or as bone cement.
Is there any risk from this material to humans and the environment?
Administered X-ray contrast agents that contain barium sulphate are not taken up by the gastro-intestinal tract due to the materials’ insolubility. This makes barium sulphate an ideal imaging agent for highlighting the shape of the digestive tract during X-ray examinations and the material is subsequently excreted unchanged. Studies have also confirmed that inhaled barium sulphate nanoparticles don’t accumulate in the lungs and do not cause any harm to lung tissue. Barium sulphate nanoparticles are also not able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Up to this point in time, there is no experimental information regarding the behaviour of barium sulphate nanoparticles in the environment.
In general, the human body and environment are only exposed to very small amounts of barium sulphate nanoparticles. In the case of medical uses, barium sulphate nanoparticles do not cause any harm to the human body.
By the way…
As barium sulphate is a particularly good absorber of X-ray and gamma radiation, it can be used in combination with concrete for shielding purposes in nuclear power plants.
The most important natural mineral deposit for barium sulphate in Germany is located in Meggen, Westphalia.