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500 Tons of Phosphate Dropped Into Nile River Leading To ‘Extreme Emergency’

500 Tons of Phosphate Dropped Into Nile River Leading To ‘Extreme Emergency’

The Nile River
The Nile River

The capsizing of a ship carrying 500 tons of phosphate in Qena has resulted in a state of extreme emergency being declared by Egypt’s Minister of Irrigation Hossam Moghazi.

According to Al-Ahram, the ship collided with a bridge’s foundation in the Upper Egyptian city, leading to it capsizing.

The Ministry of Irrigation declared the state of emergency as a precautionary measure as phosphate is not soluble in water.

However, the Ministry has affirmed that the Nile’s water will still be fit for human use and that samples extracted from the river at the site of the collision show “normal quality” of water.

Nevertheless, Egypt’s Ministry of Environment has set up a committee to investigate the phosphate spill.

According to a statement by the Egyptian cabinet, an operations room was also set up at the Environment Ministry to coordinate between the different ministries and to ensure investigations are accurate and succinct.

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  • ikma

    “Phosphate” isn’t the name of a molecule; it’s the name of a negatively-charged ion. Since it has a charge, it cannot be present alone – there has to be a positively-charged ion with it that can balance out the charge. This positively-charged ion could be many different things. It might be sodium, potassium, ammonium, lead, barium, or any number of other ions. These different positively-charged ions can greatly change how the phosphate salt (and by ‘salt’, I mean the pair made by the phosphate ion and whatever the positively-charged ion is) behaves.

    The fact that the Ministry of Irrigation called this phosphate salt ‘insoluble’ suggests that the positively-charged ion paired with the phosphate prevents it from dissolving in water. However, without knowing what the identity of the positively-charged ion is, it is impossible to say how dangerous this spill is.

    For example, if aluminum phosphate was spilled (this is a type with a positive aluminum ion and the negative phosphate ion), the worst health risk would be very mild skin irritation, and I would be very surprised to even see that. Aluminum phosphate can be common in soil, and is present in some antacid tablets that people take for indigestion. On the other hand, if lead phosphate was spilled (this is a type with a positive lead ion and the negative phosphate ion), lead ions (very toxic) would leach into the water at a low concentration, and they would be present for a very long time if the spill is not quickly cleaned up. Without having more specific information about what was spilled, it is impossible to determine what health risks there are, so it is probably wise to avoid using water from the affected area as much as possible.

    So far I’ve mostly focused on how the chemicals involved in this spill can be toxic to humans. The larger issue with spills involving phosphates is ecological. Phosphates are an important plant nutrient, and large spills like this can trigger runaway algae growth in the area. These algae can produce toxins, cause clogs and other issues in water treatment plants, and decrease the oxygen dissolved in the water, killing off local aquatic wildlife. Since the phosphate salt involved in this spill is insoluble, this *may* be less of an issue (the phosphate needs to dissolve in order for it to be available to algae), but it is an important thing to keep in mind.

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  • DurkaDurka

    1,000,000 pounds of phosphate. Think again.

    Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
    Coughing
    Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)

    Blood in the stool
    Burns of the esophagus (food pipe) and stomach
    Diarrhea
    Severe abdominal pain
    Vomiting, possibly bloody

    Drooling
    Severe pain in the throat
    Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
    Vision loss

    Low blood pressure — develops rapidly
    Collapse
    Severe change in blood acid level
    Shock

    Burns
    Hives
    Holes in the skin or underlying tissue
    Skin irritation

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