Happy 350th birthday phosphorus. Oh, alright. It’s been around for a lot longer than that, but humans only discovered it in 1669. Hennig Brand, a German alchemist, accidentally discovered phosphorus in his search for how to make gold from urine. He called the substance he discovered “cold fire” because it glowed in the dark. It’s a chemical element with the symbol P on the periodic table and atomic number of 15. But there’s more to phosphorus than just its ability to ignite.

It’s an essential element for plant life and is a component of many fertilizers. It’s also crucial to human life where its main function is ensuring healthy bones and teeth. It is found in DNA, RNA, and all living cell membranes. But too much phosphorus is never a good thing. In our bodies, it can interfere with how our cells effectively use other minerals such as iron and calcium. In our watersheds, it can speed up eutrophication (the reduction of dissolved oxygen in water) in our waterways. Too little oxygen in the water leads to algae blooms that are harmful to fish and other marine life.

Linda Spellman is member of the board of the Watershed Alliance of Adams County. Visit WAAC’s web site, www.adamswatersheds.org for more information.

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