Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Phosphorus Use : Problem with a capital P

Overuse of the agricultural fertilizer phosphorus has led to pollution of lakes, rivers and streams, in addition to the potential shortage of the chemical element worldwide. Number 15 on the periodic table, phosphorus was discovered in 1669 and found to glow in the dark. This may explain some of bright colors that can be seen in algal growth stemming from phosphoric pollution.
When excessively used, this fertilizer can be carried away in runoff to nearby bodies of water, and results in algal blooms. It can also be found causing issues at improperly run wastewater treatment facilities. The algal blooms in freshwater make the ecosystem unstable and also lower the water quality. An overabundance of phosphorus is also a cause of eutrophication. This means that too many plants grow and take the oxygen out of the water which puts fish and other aquatic life in danger as well as degrading the quality of the water. Scientists are debating how changing agricultural practices relating to phosphate may affect pollution of surface waters. For further information, read the UW-Madison press release. The caption for the photo posted above and another algae photo can be seen here.

Photo credit: UW-Madison Communications, Bryce Richter