Essay: Phosphorus

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  • Published on: January 28, 2019
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  • Phosphorus
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Phosphorus (P) is a non-metallic chemical element that belongs to the nitrogen family (Group 15 ( Fig 1.0 and Fig 1.1) of the periodic table).At room temperature it’s a colourless, semi-transparent, soft, waxy solid that glows in the dark.
The element was discovered in 1669 by a German alchemist Hennig Brand. The element was discovered by Brand evaporating around 50-60 buckets of urine. By boiling, filtering and evaporating most of the water he was left with a waxy solid. The original discovery of Phosphorous was accidental, Brand was originally to find a chemical but failed. He ended up discovering the material; phosphorous. The element lets off a faint glow when exposed to oxygen- this links into the Greek name. Phosphorous was given the name “light- bearer”, referring to the ‘Morning Star’, the planet Venus (or Mercury)

Phosphorous is not found in its elemental form in nature. It is commonly found in a combination with other elements within the earth’s crust, as well as in plants, animals and rocks.

Phosphorus is an essential living element for plants (Fig 1.3), animals and even humans. These living organisms need phosphorus to build bones and teeth, these organisms also use it to build their cells and to build and store energy. There are about 700g of phosphorous in a typical 65 kg person and around 80 percent of this phosphorus is stored in the bones and teeth. Phosphorous is an important mineral in our diet, foods such as cheese, eggs, bread and meat are great sources of phosphorous.

Phosphorous is also a factor in DNA and RNA, as the chemicals are able to carry genetic information in cells. The main uses of Phosphorous is in matches and in bombs designed to set their targets on fire. Phosphorous mixtures are generally used in fertilizers, detergents and toothpastes. Some of these mixtures are then used to kill harmful insects.

There are about ten different forms of the element, but they fall into three main major categories; white, red and black.

White phosphorous is by far the more chemically reactive one out of the three. It is best if it is kept underwater. It easily combines with most elements and it can ignite freely upon exposure to air, letting off white fumes. It is extremely poisonous, and when exposed in sunlight it can turn into red phosphorus, which does neither glow or burn in air. Red phosphorus is not poisonous and it is found on the head of a match stick (Fig 1.5) the striking surface. Black Phosphorous has a flaky texture like graphite and is made by exposing white phosphorous to high pressure. It is also the least reactive form of phosphorous.

Phosphorus -32, is one of the many radioactive isotopes of Phosphorous. The nucleus of phosphorous -32 holds 15 protons and 17 neutrons. This is one extra neutron than the most common isotope of phosphorus i.e. Phosphorous -31. Phosphorus -32 only exists in small amounts on Earth, as it has a short half-life of 14.29 days, meaning it decays quickly. As seen in Phosphorous -32 atom diagram (Fig 1.6) the green neutron (coloured differently to the other neutrons) is the extra neutron that the isotope has gained, from the original Phosphorous atom. (Fig 1.7 and 1.8)

A stable isotope does not emit radiation whereas an unstable isotope goes through the process of radioactive decay. But Phosphorous -32 is an unstable isotope because it has a 1:1 ratio. Generally radioactive elements have more neutrons than protons but some elements are quite stable with more neutrons. There is instability in the nuclear forces due to an excess of neutrons.

Phosphorus-32 is used and found in many areas of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology. Phosphorus is also used as a tracer in nuclear medicine, it is used to identify tumors in the body. This is because cancerous cells have a tendency to accumulate more phosphate than normal cells. Tracing from the outside of the body to identify the accurate location of the possible tumors.

The tumours are traced by a small quantity of radiopharmaceutical being injected, swallowed or inhaled into the body. The pharmaceutical part acts like a chemical that the body normally uses, so the body tissues “take up” the radiopharmaceutical. The radioactive part gives off radiation that then is detected by a special device. The device used depends on the organ or tissue being reviewed. It may be a gamma camera or a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner or probe (Fig 1.9). These devices record the gamma rays given off, and then a computer uses this data to make an image. There are 4 different types of nuclear medicine images:

• Dynamic – a sequence of images that captures the movement or activity (blood flow to an organ)

• Planar (static)- a 2 dimensional vision that shows one image at a time

• Whole Body – 2 dimensional photos of front and back views

• SPECT (single photon emission computed tomography- a 3 dimensional view, which shows the process of the organ bein studied

The scanning procedure can take between 15 minutes to a few hours to complete, this can depend on the part of the body that is being scanned. Some of the procedures may requie patients to fast for a period of time.

The radiation that has be emitted by the phosphorus can be used for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. Phosphorous-32 emits the radiation of beta decay. Through phosphrous-32 doing this it decays into Sulfur-32 (See Fig 2.0) When the energy is being released it it at the rate of 1.709 MeV of energy. When getting this procedure done;

Dose rate for 1 mCi of P-32 over 1cm-sq of skin

– At 10cm: 22 rads/hr

– At 1 cm: 200 rads/hr

– At surface of skin: 2,000 rads/hr

The cost of the radiation therapy per patient can vary depending on the area being treated and the amount of times it is treated. It has been estimated that it will cost beteen $7300 -$10300 for Breast cancer, $7500- $11,100 for lung cancer and $11,300 – $25,500 for Prostate cancer (R.Nelson 2015- Cost of Variations for Radiotherapy). The cost of ovarian cancer treatment can range from $20,000 or more for surgery up to $200,000 or more for treatment with surgery and chemotherapy for advanced cancer. Phosphorous-32 has been considered as a possible chemotherapy manager that can treat dispersed ovarian cancer. Phosphorous-32 is a widely used radioisotope for cancer detection and treatment, mainly for eyes and skin cancer.

Phosphorous-32is also used as treatment for some blood disorders, including one called Polycythemia Vera (PV). PV means that your bone marrow makes too many red blood cells. The radioactive isotope is absorbed by the bone marrow and gives a dose of radiation, which temporarily lowers the production of blood cells. The radioactive phosphorous is injected into your bloodstream through a small tube that is put into your vein. This simple, painless treatment only normally takes a few minutes and is similar to having a blood test. The patient can go home straight afterwards, without having to be hospitalized.

Patients exposed to P-32, have a somewhat higher risk of leukemia than untreated patients, however this downside is outweighed by the benefits of the treatment.

Over 10,000 hospitals worldwide are using radioisotopes in medicine, with around 90% of the procedures being used for diagnosis. There is a huge difference with the use and frequency of nuclear medicine between developed countries. In the USA, there are over 20 million nuclear medicine procedures per year, in Europe about 10 million and in Australia around 560,000per year. In 2016, it was identified that the global radioisotope was valued at $9.6 billion, with it to reach around $17 billion in 2021.

Phosphorous-32 is essential in a variety of scientific studies. For example, it is added into car tires during manufacture. This enables people to track tire wear over time.

Phosphorous-32 is also used in Biochemistry and Molecular biology. For example the isotope is used to discover and analyze n
ew genetic and living pathways of organisms. DNA contains a large amount of phosphorous and within DNA there are many oligonucleotides (short sections of DNA or RNA) that are of interest in diagnosis and research. DNA can be tracked by replacing the phosphorous with phosphorous -32.

Phosophorous-32 is used in plant science and for tracing a plant’s fertilizer (Fig 2.1) and growth from the roots to the leaves. The isotope fertilizer is given to plants that grow without soil (Hydroponically (Fig 2.2 and 2.3)) or via water in the soil, the usage of this can be recorded by the discharged beta radiation. The information that is then collected from the results of the fertilizers uptake, shows how the plants grow and uses the phosphorous from the fertilizer.

When using radioisotopes, there is always going to be risks as well as the benefits that people get out of the treatment. These risks can affect the society as well as the people who have had the treatment (Table 1.0). Radiation can cause illness and death if there is an overdose or high doses used.

Field Applications and benefits Problems

Industry o Nuclear power production – reduces dependence on other forms of power production, such as coal, which contributes more to climate change

o Leak detection tracing

o Smoke alarms

o Thickness gauges

o Building ventilation tests

o Irradiation of food and raw wool to destroy micro-organisms o Require nuclear reactors for production

o Can cause damage to healthy tissue and health problems, including cancer, if not used or stored safely

o Radioactive waste requires disposal

Medicine o Diagnosis/tracing and treatment of medical illnesses

o Medical sterilisation – prevents patient infection

(Same as for industry)

Based on the information and knowledged I have gained on isotopes and the use of radionuclear medicineand treatment, I think it is important to use the radioisotopes to our advantage, as they are able to help people by improving health outcomes. Phosphorus is also essential for plant life and has multiple industrial uses. P-32 is involved in the ongoing research into treating and curing medical conditions. Over 40 million nuclear medicine procedures are performed each year with demand increasing at a rate of 5% annually. With the increasing numbers of radionuclear therapy, it shows that this treatment if being used more and more. This displays that this treatment works and is helping people more and more every year. Phosphorus has many applications in the field of scientific research. Ultimately, if nuclear medicine and radioisotopes are used correctly and in appropriate amounts then there are minimal safety concerns and risks .

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