Some researchers believe that phosphorous — a staple of life present in the DNA of all plants and animals — is becoming endangered, and its gradual depletion is being largely ignored.
Phosphorus is used worldwide by farmers and in a number of key industries, but 85 percent of rich phosphate deposits for mining are limited to just three countries: China, the United States and Morocco. James Elser, a professor at Arizona State University, and Elizabeth Bennett, a researcher at McGill University in Canada, published an article last month that calls for an examination of phosphate use and a contingency plan for the disappearance of phosphorus. In their article “Phosphorus cycle: a broken biogeochemical cycle” which was published in Nature, the two argue that while mineable phosphorus is disappearing, that which is used in industry and farming is poisoning the environment. The two say that there is an urgent need for recycling programs that target the element.
Officials in the United States have reportedly just begun considering ways to approach limited phosphorus supplies. Morocco, the country with the world’s largest mineable phosphorus reserve, has been planning for years to benefit from phosphorus shortfalls. Despite having more of the element available than China and the United States, Morocco mines less – although it still accounts for 30 percent of global export, according to Reuters. Some researchers believe the North African country is waiting for its two competitors to deplete reserves, giving the country a monopoly on the element, before increasing production.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that phosphorus that can be mined with modern technology, could be completely gone in as little as 90 years.