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PHOSPHORUS CHEMISTRY: PROBLEMS

Health and Environmental Concerns; Essential and can be deadly (like Fire!).


HEALTH: Many phosphorus compounds give serious health problems. The white phosphorus is a poison; and many chemical warfare agents are also phosphorus compounds. Many phosphorus compounds are corrosive also due to their acidity or the acidity of their decomposed products. Also the presence of pesticide residues in food which might have accumulated over a longer period (especially in animal products) is a serious health concern.


ENVIRONMENT: Phosphorus is vital to the growth of all life forms and is one of the three important nutrients for plants (the NPK= Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium). As we saw in the USES, phosphorus is used in water treatment, since it forms insoluble salts with many metals. Due to this factor, in nature phosphorus is not readily available compared to other elements. Particularly in water, its concentration is limited since most of the salts have poor solubility. In sea, the presence of other metals results in the formation of insoluble salts and precipitate out the phosphorus maintaining a limit. That is, the natural cycle of phosphorus is slow due to its formation of insoluble (actually poorly soluble) salts. But if we use more soluble salts as fertilizers, the rain can easily dissolve and take it to the river where the metals that can precipitate the phosphorus is not available many times; in that case the phosphorus will remain in water until it goes into the sea. This artificial increase in phosphorus concentration leads to an abnormal flourishing of algae. This excess growth can cause other species to die, especially the fish and other aquatic life which are an important part of our food and also important for many other animals. This causes an imbalance in nature.


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Created by Dr. A. Chandrasekaran
Department of Chemistry, University of Massachusetts, AMHERST, MA 01003, USA.

Suggestions welcome!