Chemical element, one of the alkaline earth metals, chemical symbol Ba, atomic number 56. It is very reactive and in compounds always has valence 2. In nature it is found chiefly as the minerals barite (barium sulfate) and witherite (barium carbonate). The element is used in metallurgy, and its compounds are used in fireworks, petroleum mining, and radiology and as pigments and reagents. All soluble barium compounds are toxic. Barium sulfate, one of the most insoluble salts known, is given in a barium meal as a contrast medium for X-ray examination of the gastrointestinal tract.