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Phosphate Levels in Water and How to Protect Your Health

Phosphates are a naturally occurring compound that can be found in many foods, fertilizers, and soaps.

However, phosphate levels have been on the rise over the past few decades due to human activities such as farming and sewage disposal. This increase has led to concerns about its effects on human health and the environment.

So how does phosphate get into water, is it harmful to human health, and what are the effects on our environment?

phosphate levels in the environment

What is Phosphate?

If you want to learn more about the science, phosphate comes in more than one form.

Phosphorus is an element on the periodic table that is an essential nutrient for healthy plants and animals.

Phosphate (PO4) is the result when phosphorus combines with other substances to form compounds, a phosphate group, or esters.

Phosphorus comes from sedimentary rocks naturally formed by organic matter on the ocean floor that has accumulated for millions of years.

What are the Health Benefits of Phosphates and Phosphorus?

Phosphates and phosphorus are essential nutrients of human life and have a lot of benefits, according to healthline.com.

Main Benefits of Phosphorus

  • Assists energy production and storage
  • Helps synthesize DNA and RNA
  • Helps build bone mass
  • Important component of bones and teeth
  • Boosts tissue growth during developmental, lactation or pregnancy stage

Other Major Benefits

  • Treats Ingestion
  • Treats High Calcium Level in Blood
  • Promotes Weight Loss
  • Improves Performance of Athletes
  • Helps Prevent and Treat Osteoporosis
  • Cures Refeeding Syndrome
  • Boosts Digestion
  • Helps in Detoxification
  • Boosts Cell Repair
  • Promotes Balance of Hormones

What are the Risks of Phosphates?

Unfortunately, an imbalance in the level of phosphate nutrient in the human body causes various problems. According to the National Institutes of Health, here are some of the effects:

Too Little Phosphorus

  • Weak bones
  • Appetite loss
  • Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Weight loss
  • Stunted growth

Too Much Phosphorus

  1. Hyperphosphatemia – High levels of phosphates with low levels of calcium in the body which can be caused by unhealthy kidneys, high levels of vitamin D, diabetic ketoacidosis, injuries including muscle injuries and severe wide-body infections. Some of its symptoms are muscle cramps and spasms, bone and joint pain, shortness of breath and sleep disturbances.
  2. Diarrhea
  3. Tissues and Organs Hardening
  4. Renal Health Issues
  5. Issues on Vitamin D Absorption

How Does Phosphate Get into Water?

phosphate in manure

Phosphates are released into ecosystems by rock deposits and mineralize groundwater naturally. They are common in soil and are considered natural.

High levels of phosphates can also contaminate water through various types of environmental pollution in the United States, including:

  • Rainfall runoff
  • Agricultural runoff
  • Erosion and sedimentation
  • Atmospheric deposition
  • Animal waste and manure
  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Industrial chemical discharges

How do Phosphates Affect the Ecosystem?

Phosphate affects the environment and the living organisms within it differently, depending on the amount and source.

Let us examine the environmental effects of phosphate to ecosystems.

Plants

On land, phosphates are used as fertilizers in agricultural soil to increase nutrients and improve plant growth.

Phosphate stimulates the growth of algae and other aquatic plants as well as the plants grown in soil.

Too much phosphate can overstimulate the growth of some types of plant, especially in lakes and ponds.

Environment

If there is too much phosphate in lakes or other bodies of water (usually through environmental pollution), this can lead to eutrophication.

Eutrophication is when excess plant growth or an algae bloom on the surface of a body of water reduces the available dissolved oxygen that aquatic animals like fish needs to survive. Learn more about this at the USGS.

How Do Phosphates Affect Water Quality?

phosphate algae bloom

When the levels of phosphate nutrients are high in a reservoir, this can cause an excess of dead plants and animals that become a source of pollution.

As the dead plants and animals decompose, organic chemical substances that alter the smell and taste of the water are released.

Too much phosphate can lower water quality in several different ways.

How Water Treatment Plants Deal with Phosphorus?

Unlike a sewage waste treatment plant that remove high levels of phosphates from the sewage waste, water providers actually introduce phosphates into water supplies to prevent lead and copper leaching from pipes and other plumbing fixtures.

While this does count as part of the water treatment process, it does introduce possible health issues to those that use the water.

Is Phosphate in Water Still a Safe Drinking Water?

For natural reservoirs used by the drinking water industry, the level of total phosphates must be 40 ppm (parts per million) or less according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Any more than that is no longer considered safe for drinking water supply according to the U.S. EPA Drinking Water Standards.

Public water sources should be under strict monitoring efforts to control the amount of phosphates, nitrogen, algae, and oxygen to balance nutrient levels and the needs of animal life.

How to Remove Phosphates from Water?

When it comes to removing phosphates from the water (or any other harmful element), water filters are the ideal solution to clean the water that enters your home.

A reverse osmosis water filtration system is considered one of the water filter systems that produce the most pure output including up to 98% reduction in phosphate according to top manufacturers in the water filter industry.

If you want to ensure that your family has pure, clean water no matter what the source, learn more about how water filters can help protect you.