Water Chemistry - Phosphate

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The element phosphorus is necessary for plant and animal growth. Nearly all fertilizers contain phosphates (chemical compounds containing the element, phosphorous). When it rains, varying amounts of phosphates wash from farm soils into nearby waterways. Phosphates stimulate the growth of plankton and water plants that provide food for fish. This may increase the fish population and improve the waterway’s quality of life. If too much phosphate is present, algae and water weeds grow wildly, choke the waterway, and use up large amounts of oxygen. Many fish and aquatic organisms may die. The Phosphorus Cycle is said to be "imperfect" because not all phosphates are recycled. Some simply drain off into lakes and oceans and become lost in sediments. Phosphate loss is not serious because new phosphates continually enter the environment from other sources. The Phosphorus Cycle Phosphates come from fertilizers, pesticides, industry, and cleaning compounds. Natural sources include phosphate-containing rocks and solid or liquid wastes. Phosphates enter waterways from human and animal wastes (the human body releases about a pound of phosphorus per year), phosphate-rich rocks, wastes from laundries, cleaning and industrial processes, and farm fertilizers. Phosphates also are used widely in power plant boilers to prevent corrosion and the formation of scale. Effects on Humans Phosphates won’t hurt people or animals unless they are present in very high concentrations. Even then, they will probably do little more than interfere with digestion. It is doubtful that humans or animals will encounter enough phosphate in natural waters to cause any health problems. Forms of Phosphate Phosphates exist in three forms: orthophosphate, metaphosphate (or polyphosphate) and organically bound phosphate. Each compound contains phosphorus in a different chemical formula. Ortho forms are

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