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Conventional agriculture using up global supply of phosphorus, causing widespread pollution

Sunday, February 27, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: agriculture, phosphorus, health news

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(NaturalNews) Modern agriculture is heavily reliant on the use of phosphorus, a mineral necessary for proper plant and crop growth. But conventional growing methods have all but depleted this natural mineral from certain areas of farmland, which has resulted in the widespread mining of phosphorus to replace it. This mining and its subsequent overuse in agriculture has led not only to widespread pollution of water supplies, but it also threatens to use up the world's limited supply of phosphorus within the next several decades, say some.
Writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, Stephen Carpenter of the University of Wisconsin - Madison (UW-Madison) and his colleague Elena Bennett from McGill University say that agricultural and industrial use of phosphorus has the negative consequence of polluting rivers, streams, lakes, and other natural water sources. And because only a few areas around the world have natural reserves of phosphorus, supplies will eventually become depleted if current mining practices continue.

"There is a finite amount of phosphorus in the world," says Carpenter, an authority on lakes and streams, and professor of limnology at UW-Madison. "This is a material that's becoming more rare and we need to use it more efficiently."

Phosphorus is an essential mineral for all living things, including humans. Without it, cells would not be able to function properly. But overuse is causing residues to seep into fresh water supplies and spur algae blooms, which are destroying entire ecosystems. The chain effect of this is the widespread death of aquatic life, animals, and potentially even humans.

"If you have too much phosphorus, you get eutrophication," adds Carpenter. "Phosphorus stimulates the growth of algae and weeds near shore and some of the algae can contain cyanobacteria, which are toxic. You lose fish. You lose water quality for drinking."

The authors say that phosphorus overuse must stop, and that soils need to be carefully analyzed for phosphorus content before adding more of the element.

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