15P Phosphorus

Year Discovered


Discovered By

Hennig Brandt of Germany

Biological Rating

Necessary for all life.


Named from the Greek word meaning “bringer of light,” phosphorus is a non-metallic element that occurs in two primary forms, red phosphorus and white phosphorus. White phosphorus is a soft, waxy, flammable solid, which is very reactive and sometimes explosive. Red phosphorus is powdery and is much more stable. White phosphorus is so unstable that it will glow in the dark as it converts to red phosphorus. It is where the term phosphorescence is derived. Because phosphorus is essential to life and the natural cycling of phosphorus through the biosphere is slow, phosphorus-based fertilizers are critical in crop production. The single greatest use of phosphorus is in fertilizers. Phosphorus is also used in insecticides, pyrotechnics, baking powder, chinaware, glass, water softeners, soft drinks, pharmaceuticals and metal treatments. It was once popular for use in detergents, but it caused environmental problems when phosphorus-rich waste water was returned to the environment.

Biological Benefits

Phosphorus is a critical element for life. It is one of the six bulk elements, being the sixth most common element in the human body. It is a constituent of DNA as well as other important biological molecules. In humans and other animals, phosphorus is a primary component of the energy molecule ATP (adenosine triphosphate) which transports chemical energy that is used by our muscles and other activity. Phosphorus is also an important constituent of the bones and teeth.

Role in Life Processes

Essential for life processes in plants and animals.

Percentage Amount in the Human Body: 1.1%


Phosphorus is obtained mainly from the minerals apatite and fluorapatite. It is mined as phosphate rock in the United States (FL, NC, ID, and UT), and other countries including China, Morocco, Russia, and Jordan. Other phosphorus-bearing minerals include phosphophyllite, turquoise and vivianite.