What is a Bologna stone? It’s not a wholesale serving size of lunch meat (thankfully). Rather, it’s an early name given to a mineral form of the element barium found near Bologna, Italy in the early 1600’s. These “stones”, actually the insoluble compound barium sulfate, were thought to be magic because they could glow in the dark for years after exposure to sunlight.What is Barium in Water?
Today, barium’s glow is used in medical tests in a solution swallowed by patients in order to x-ray the digestive tract. Yet, while this form of barium is a helpful medical aid, other water-soluble barium compounds, the kind that could be in your drinking water, can cause health consequences if ingested.
Unlike many contaminants, barium is most commonly introduced into drinking water supplies by its natural presence in the environment. Natural deposits of water-soluble barium can contaminate groundwater water sources before the water even begins its journey to public consumption. The geographic location of water sources plays a significant role in the amount of naturally caused contamination that occurs. Soil with low pH levels increases barium’s ability to dissolve, making the contaminant more able to disperse into nearby water supplies. But of course, barium contamination also occurs by result of human activity. Barium is a common additive to drilling fluid used in the drilling of oil wells, also known as ‘fracking’. This process has received a mass of recent attention from environmental activists for its direct introduction of contaminants, like barium, into the earth and the water supplies it contains. Barium’s other practical uses, such as in fireworks, paint pigments, and home vacuum cleaners also contribute to contamination by the resulting pollution of their industrial production processes.
While industrial waste from the manufacture of cadmium products, as well as the mining process for cadmium and zinc, are significant sources of cadmium’s introduction to ground and surface water sources, the use of cadmium as an alloy is a more direct source of contamination. Cadmium and zinc alloys are often used within the structures that are in direct contact with our water supply – pipes, plumbing fixtures, even water heaters and coolers. Overtime, the cadmium alloyed metals or zinc alloyed metals, which inevitably contain trace amounts of cadmium, begin to break down, releasing amounts of the contaminant into water as it passes through. The chemical nature of cadmium causes these alloys to break down faster in water with a low pH level by increasing the contaminant cadmium’s water solubility. This property complicates cadmium contamination, as contamination levels are subject to vary geographically, due to local pH levels, and even from home to home, based on the types of plumbing fixtures and water temperature controllers used in each household.
When soluble barium enters the body, its presence can cause a variety of health problems, depending on the amount ingested. The ingestion of barium in high amounts is known to cause general gastrointestinal distress including cramping, nausea, and vomiting. On the other hand, ingestion of the contaminant at lower levels over time is associated with less noticeable yet serious side effects.
This intake of barium is associated with general mal-effect of heart function. Symptoms like the narrowing of blood vessels, leading to increased blood pressure, and a decrease in the heart’s ability to contract have connected long-term intake of barium-contaminated water with general cardiovascular disease. The long-term development of these effects adds to the dangers of low level barium ingestion, as its delayed expression allows contamination to fly under the radar while bodily damage accrues.
With the possibility for harmful levels of barium contamination to go unnoticed, it is important to be aware of the contamination risks of your water supplier. While the Environmental Protection Agency requires public water suppliers to keep their water under the determined Maximum Contaminant Level of 2 milligrams per liter (2 mg/L), environmental factors that vary by location pose water health risks that could alter contamination levels. For example, a major water supply for Nashville, Tennessee experiencing an increase in the levels of barium and other contaminants due to a nearby coal plant: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/health/2015/02/05/groups-join-lawsuit-protect-nashville-drinking-water/22940433/
In order to assure the health of your water, it is best to be proactive in the removal of contaminants by investing in a home filtration system. There are a few options of filter types that have been approved for the removal of the contaminant barium. Ion-exchange filters use a specialized resin to attract barium ions and deposit health-neutral ions in their place. These systems have the added bonus of making contamination levels easier to monitor with a home test due to a change in the water’s electrical conductivity as a result of the ion-exchange process. Water softener filters like lime softeners are also approved for barium removal. This system increases pH levels in order to make barium less soluble in water, reducing its overall level of contamination. Reverse-osmosis filtration uses pressure to force water through a semi-permeable membrane.
Water molecules are able to pass through the membrane while larger contaminants cannot, resulting in purified water. While all of these options are effective choices for barium decontamination, become aware of other contamination risks of your water supply to choose the best option for your needs. Explore environmental information for your state from the U.S. geological survey here: https://www.usgs.gov/
Using water filters at home or at institutions can easily do water filtration for all uses. Water filtration helps to protect from serious waterborne problems or risks to health. It is highly recommended for protection from Water contaminants found in Water supply that cause Water pollution.