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Phosphorous May Be Endangered Element

October 17, 2011 by  

Phosphorous May Be Endangered Element

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.


Sam Rolley

Staff writer Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After learning about many of the biases present in most modern newsrooms, Rolley became determined to find a position in journalism that would allow him to combat the unsavory image that the news industry has gained. He is dedicated to seeking the truth and exposing the lies disseminated by the mainstream media at the behest of their corporate masters, special interest groups and information gatekeepers.

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  • CP

    It sounds like we need to find a way to recover some of what has been “lost” to nature. No element is ever lost. It may be that no one has worked out a way to get phosphorus other than mining, but the stuff is there somewhere to be recovered.

  • oldbill

    None of the phosphorus that was here before life started on the planet has left the earth. It’s just been moved around. Maybe we should set up giant compost bins next to our solar panels and windmills. I’ve got room next to my coal mine and my nuclear reactor.

  • eddie47d

    Learn to pay more or learn to live without it. Not much different than oil supplies and other earth resources.(gold and diamonds,etc) Maybe someone will come up with a synthetic Phosphate.

  • Howard

    Ironic that I posted an article that mentioned phosphorous on my blog just this morning, and how excessive phosphorous in the diet can cause RLS and osteoporosis. I agree with CP above. The problem is not a shortage, but inefficient use and mis-allocation.

    The amount of phosphorous is not changing, and will never be “completely gone.” What will happen is that will become more expensive, and the allocation of the element for commercial use will change (maybe soda pop will get less of it, which will be a really good thing). Other methods of extracting phosphorous will be invented. We’ll figure out ways to avoid dispersing it inefficiently and polluting the environment. We might finally figure out that large-scale monoculture farming is not sustainable, and turn to better ways of growing food. Maybe the diversified family farm might become profitable again.

    The prediction that we might be completely out of mine-able phosphorous in 90 years is preposterous, and resembles the hysterical predictions that we would be all out of oil by the year 2000 (revised to 2010, then to 2020, then…). Didn’t happen, and in fact, we will *never* completely run out of oil, although it will eventually get too expensive to use it for something as wasteful as burning it in an internal combustion engine (and the folks who plan for that day stand to make lots of money).

  • loretta

    everything is being depleted. Its called over population. keep using and using and it all disappears.

  • john t

    so what in 90 yrs. we all will be dead and burried anyway. so whats the difference?

  • coal miner

    Oct 14, 2011 · Should the periodic table bear a warning label in the 21st century or be revised with a lesson about elemental supply and demand? If so, that lesson ……phosphorus_be_first_on_an_elemental_red_list

  • coal miner

    Phosphorus is the chemical element in the periodic table … Breaking Up Phosphorus With Ultraviolet Light May … Endangered Animals; Extinction; Frogs …

  • coal miner

    Phosphorus is a non-metal element and does not conduct electricity or heat and does not reflect light. At room temperature, phosphorus may be either a gas or a …

  • s c

    Once again, the collision of reality and politics has raised its ugly head. At some point, you’d think the people of nations around the world would revolt and throw off the chains of those who don’t know the difference between a certain illegal, immoral act and a real ‘job.’
    At some point, you’d think scientists would put politicians in their place, and “exterminate them with extreme prejudice.”
    Eventually, the mysterious ways of the politician will usher in a new cave man age, and the world can start again (not really, but it’s an image that needs to be considered). People, it makes NO SENSE to live under the thumbs of politicians. A used car salesman serves more of a purpose than 99.99999% of all the politicians who ever lived.
    It seems to me that one side of the true social justice jewel should include the moral right to wipe politicians off the face of the planet. Of course, it should be done without regard to race, creed, color or any other quality that lets the SOBs and bastards make life miserable for the rest of us. One MUST be pc at all times (right?) – but go for the jugular. It’s faster and more ‘humane.’

  • illuminoughtu

    Phosphorus is an element. It is required for the building of DNA. Life cannot exist without it. There is no substitute. There is no “synthetic”. It doesn’t “disappear” it dilutes into the environment. The concentrated sources are being depleted. The concentration by nature over millions of years at specific locations, is what makes it cheap to extract. When it is diluted into the effluent stream of rivers it becomes expensive to extract. The increasing expenses associated with depletion of concentrated sources of multiple resources is cumulative, and will eventually collapse the current system. The assumption that “We will find new sources.” ignores the reality that “Peak Resources” are a function of increasing demand, not just supply. The global population is now 7 billion. It will grow to 10 billion before the middle of the century. Where are we going to find an increase of 50% of every resource? We won’t. The increasing costs of discovery and exploitation will collapse the current system. It has no simple solution. Unless you consider destroying portions of the population as simple. This is going to require a miracle. Or an apocalypse.


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