What's the difference between phosphorous and phosphates?

23 June 2020

HAND-WASHING

Someone washing their hands in a granite sink

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Question

What's the difference between phosphorous and phosphates?

Answer

We put this question to University of Cambridge chemist Ljiljana Fruk...

Ljiljana - Hmm. So phosphorous and sulphur are elements. So these are chemical elements that have a particular atomic mass, that they contain a number of protons and electrons. Phosphate are salts of phosphoric acid. And phosphoric acid is obtained from phosphorous after the reaction with oxygen and water, and certain processes. The same is with sulphates. Sulphates are salts of sulphuric acid. That said, it's an interesting question. I referred to phosphate and sulfate both are really, really important for functioning of our body. For example, phosphates are important as regulators of our metabolism. They're also very often used in fertilisers. The same thing with sulphur and sulphate. We could hardly imagine the world without sulphates. And actually now in this pandemic, we all use soap, and we are encouraged to wash our hands and one of the main ingredients of soap and soapy compounds is actually sodium laureth sulphate. So both elements and their salts are extremely important from metabolic point of view, but also from the industrial development point of view.

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