Phosphates as phosphorus

PO4-P, Fosfat som fosfor

Name PRTR:


CAS no:

7723-14-0 (P)

Molecular formula:


Phosphates are salts and esters of phosphoric acid, in which phosphorous is present.1


About 90 % of produced phosphoric acid is used for manufacturing of fertilizer.
2 Phosphorous is also used in the metallurgic industry, for production of pyrotechnical products, in detergents, in pharmaceuticals and in matches. Phosphate mineral, for example apatite, is the primary source of phosphorous. The largest phosphorous mineral deposits are located in China, Algeria and Syria. In Sweden, an ore called apatite-iron is mined, which contains between five and ten percent apatite. There are on-going investigations into the possibility of using the phosphorous contained in the mining waste.3 Phosphate is one of the molecules that builds up DNA.4  

Sources and transportation pathways

Phosphorous compounds are found naturally in all living organisms. Almost half of the total phosphorous influx to the sea originate from natural sources. The other part is anthropogenic.
5 Phosphates enter the environment for example by the use of fertilizer, from local on-site and municipal wastewater treatment, from the industry and from the use of detergents.6,7  One cause of increased nutrient levels in the sea, in particular in regards to phosphorous, is the “internal load”. Internal load describes the process of phosphorous depots accumulated in the marine sediment re-entering the water under oxygen-poor conditions, which is common in for example the Baltic Sea8. Phosphorous can primarily be found in food that is high in protein, such as dairy, meat and legumes.9

on environment and health

Eutrophication in freshwater environments is almost always caused by phosphates.
10,11 The growth of cyanobacteria (algal bloom) benefits from easy access to nutrients, primarily phosphorous and nitrogen.12 When cyanobacteria die, toxins are released in the water, causing disease or death of animals. The main risk groups are dogs, cattle, sheep, sea birds and farmed fish.13

Excessive phosphorous intake can damage the kidneys and affect the skeletal system. Phosphorous deficiency is very rare but may result in decalcification of the skeleton, damage kidney function and cause nerve and muscle issues.14

International agreements and regulations

Phosphorous and phosphates are regulated by the EU Groundwater Directive (2006/118/EC), the EU Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EC) and the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (2010/75/EU). Phosphorous levels in laundry detergent and dishwasher detergent for consumer use are regulated by the EU Detergent Regulation (2004/648/EC). Phosphorous is also included in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (2008/56/EC) that aims to reduce the eutrophication in the Baltic Sea.




1 Kemikalieinspektionen, Rapport Nr 4/10
8 HELCOM, 2009.Eutrophication in the Baltic Sea – An integrated thematic assessment of the effects of nutrient enrichment and eutrophication in the Baltic Sea region. Balt. Sea Environ. Proc. No. 115B