The global phosphorus crisis – scientists call for action

Grain Central October 1, 2019

PHOSPHORUS is an essential resource for the world’s food production. Yet, no international institutions govern the Earth’s limited resources.

An international team of 40 phosphorus experts now express their concern and call to action.

Phosphorus in the form of phosphate is essential for the existence of all plants, animals and humans. On one hand, the world needs phosphate as fertiliser for agricultural food production. On the other hand, we waste so much of it that it pollutes our water resources on a global scale.

Large amounts of phosphate end up in Nature’s waterways and must be removed from wastewater.

This has to change. There are only a few phosphorus mines in the world, and if we do not find a way to recycle our very limited phosphate resources, the world will eventually run out, and that will be a disaster.

Without phosphate, the worlds’ farmers will not be able to produce enough food for our growing human population, says Kasper Reitzel, a phosphorus expert and associate professor at the University of Southern Denmark.

He is one of 40 international phosphorus experts, stating that there is a pressing need to approach the phosphorus crisis.

Their concern and call to action is expressed in the scientific journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Industries and universities together

The 40 experts are from industries, universities and research institutes in 12 different countries, among them four are from University of Southern Denmark (biologist, associated professor Kasper Reitzel, biologist, associated professor Sara Egemose, chemist, associated professor Ulla Gro Nielsen and chemical engineer, professor mso, Haiyan Qu).

Not only are we overexploiting the world’s phosphorus resources: We also waste a lot of it. Large amounts are washed off the farmers’ fields and into streams, lakes and other water resources, causing water pollution.

According to the expert group, no international bodies govern the global phosphorus resources. Resources are managed by local or national authorities and often, regulations and technologies are not up-to-date.

The system needs change

There is no collaboration or coordination on a global scale that takes the responsibility of governing the global P-resource, not even between European Union member states or the states of United States.

Reitzel said the EU Water Framework Directives or the American Clean Water Act focused predominantly on the ecological quality of water, and did not integrate P sustainability to a sufficient level.

The experts recommend the development of a new generation of nutrient sustainability professionals. They must work collectively and inter-disciplinarily to secure international phosphorus management and a clean environment.

These people should not be simple phosphorus specialists, but rather “system thinkers” who can inform judicious decision making on all aspects of the management of phosphorus, says Reitzel.

Source: University of Southern Denmark




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  1. charles Nason, October 1, 2019

    We also need to remember that some sources ( Pacific Islands ) are also high in cadmium
    The Mt Isa and Barkly areas have good clean phosphorus reserves but Australia unlike Canada is quite happy to sell these to overseas companies – not strategically sensible

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