replaced, the resulting compound is described as a primary, secondary or
tertiary phosphate. Primary and secondary phosphates contain hydrogen and are
acid salts. Secondary and tertiary phosphates, with the exception of those of
is valuable as a detergent and water softener. The primary phosphates tend to be
Phosphates, which are an important component to metabolism in both
Phosphates have caused increasing attention recently. The focus is on
the environmentally harmful effects in household detergents. Wastewater, from
laundering agents, contains phosphates, which are said to be a water pollutant.
Most laundry detergents contain approximately 35% to 75% sodium
triphosphate (Na5P3O10), which serves two purposes. Providing an alkaline
solution (pH 9.0 to 10.5) is necessary for effective cleansing and also to tie
interfering with the cleansing role of the detergent.
festering masses of algae’s blooms, choking rivers and lakes. Phosphorus
compounds act as a fertilizer for all plant life, whether free-floating algae
The marine environment is both fragile and more resistant than the
generally present in very low concentrations, permanently consumed by living
organisms and pollutants diffuse rapidly.
up by both algae and rooted weeds. The weeds act as a shelter for fish larvae
and zooplankton, both of which eat algae and are, in turn, eaten by larger fish.
Scientists have concluded that unpolluted lakes can absorb surprisingly large
amounts of phosphates without uncertainty. When a fertilizer, such as a
phosphate, is added more algae will grow, and consequently will the populations
of zooplankton and fish. Difficulties only arise when the lake is already impure.
Zooplankton are sensitive to their environment and many substances are toxic to
them. If any of these substances, including phosphates, are present the
system will case algae growth. The floating masses cut off the light supply.
well on the way to catastrophe.
due to the fact that wetlands filter the waters of our lakes, rivers and streams,
sequentially reducing contamination of water. The plant growth in wetlands
removes phosphates and other plant nutrients washed in from the surrounding soil,
consequently restricting the growth of algae and aquatic weeds. This growth is
a serious problem in some of Canada’s major waterways, where dead and decaying
algae deprive the deeper waters of their oxygen.
neutralized easily by adding lime, but this makes the waters rich in calcium.
Life will gradually return to the lake but, as these lakes should have low
calcium levels, it will not be the same kind of life that existed in lakes
These phosphates work by shielding the water. This depends upon nitrate
ions in the lake. Contradictory, these ions also are produced by acid rain,
alter the pH level of the water. Instead, they stimulate the growth of plants.
The plants absorb the dissolved nitrates, generating hydroxide ions, which in
return neutralize the excess acid.
Removal of phosphates from detergent is not likely to slow algae growth
in containing substances. It may actually prove disastrous. Its replacement with
borax will definitely be disastrous. Scientists are unsure of borax role in
plant growth. It is not required by algae and other micro plants, but it is
essential to higher plants. However in excessive quantities, about 5 micrograms
of boron per gram of water, boron severely damages plant life. Highly alkaline
substances, gel proteins and sodium hydroxide is hazardous substances. Another
concern is the fact that each year thousands of children swallow detergents
resulting in serious injuries or death.
In conclusion, the only way to overcome the disastrous effects of
phosphates is to find an alternate. However, an acceptable substitute for
phosphates has not yet been found. Washing only with synthetic detergents would
require so much detergent that the cost per wash would increase significantly.
Another alternative is the substitution of synthetic nonionic detergents for
ionic detergents in use. Nonionic detergents are not precipitated by Calcium of
Magnesium ions. This would reduce the risk contaminating our lakes and rivers.