Strontium was discovered in 1790 and was isolated in 1808. Strontium is a soft, shiny metal. Like calcium and the other metals on the left-hand side of the periodic table, strontium is an active metal. It has a shiny, silver-gray appearance when it is first cut, but soon tarnishes with a duller, slightly yellow colour. The pure metal cannot be found in nature, but an abundant supply of compounds have been naturally formed by reactions between strontium, atmospheric gases and water. Its compounds comprise of 0.025% of the earth's crust, putting it in the same category as carbon and sulfur.

Strontium metal is produced from one of its two most common ores, celestite SrSO4, and strontianite SrCO3. The ore is treated with hydrochloric acid to yield strontium chloride. It is then electrolyzed in a molten state to produce strontium metal and chlorine gas.

Strontium has no important commercial uses, though the red colour of its flame is utilized in pyrotechnic devices. Strontium-89 and -90 are fallout products of atomic bomb explosions. Strontium-90 is especially deadly because it is a strong beta emitter and has a long half-life of 28 years. Exposure to strontium-90 particles will show a rapid accumulation of the isotope in bone tissue. Because it is so highly radioactive, it interferes with the production of new blood cells and eventually causes death.

Useful strontium compounds include:

  1. strontium carbonate, SrCO3. This carbonate is used in the manufacture of fireworks, certain kinds of glass.
  2. strontium nitrate, Sr(NO3)2. This is also responsible for red colours appearing in fireworks, signal flares, and other pyrotechnic devices.
  3. strontium chloride, SrCl2. It is also used in fireworks to give a red flame.

BCIT Chemistry Resource Center