Definition

A non-metal element that has the atomic symbol P, atomic number 15, and atomic weight 31. It is an essential element that takes part in a broad variety of biochemical reactions. Phosphorus is essential for life. As phosphate, it is a component of DNA, RNA, ATP, and also the phospholipids that form all cell membranes. [Wikpedia]

Description

White phosphorus is a colorless, white, or yellow waxy solid with a garlic-like odor. It does not occur naturally, but is manufactured from phosphate rocks. White phosphorus reacts rapidly with oxygen, easily catching fire at temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above room temperature. White phosphorus is used by the military in various types of ammunition, and to produce smoke for concealing troop movements and identifying targets. It is also used by industry to produce phosphoric acid and other chemicals for use in fertilizers, food additives, and cleaning compounds. Small amounts of white phosphorus were used in the past in pesticides and fireworks. Exposure to white phosphorus may come through working at a facility where white phosphorus is manufactured, breathing contaminated air near a facility that is using white phosphorus, eating contaminated fish or game birds or drinking or swimming in water that has been contaminated with white phosphorus, or touching soil contaminated with white phosphorus. Little information is available about the health effects that may be caused by white phosphorus. Most of what is known about the effects of breathing white phosphorus is from studies of workers. Most of what is known about the effects of eating white phosphorus is from reports of people eating rat poison or fireworks that contained it. Breathing white phosphorus for short periods may cause coughing and irritation of the throat and lungs. Breathing white phosphorus for long periods may cause a condition known as 'phossy jaw' which involves poor wound healing of the mouth and breakdown of the jaw bone. Eating or drinking small amounts of white phosphorus may cause liver, heart, or kidney damage, vomiting, stomach cramps, drowsiness, or death. The effects of chronic ingestion are unknown. Skin contact with burning white phosphorus may burn skin or cause liver, heart, and kidney damage. It is not known whether white phosphorus affects fertility or causes birth defects. There are no studies linking white phosphorus to cancer in humans or animals. (L2077)

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