Phosphates are natural compounds – salts containing phosphorus and other minerals. The main minerals in bones and teeth are types of phosphates with the scientific names of hydroxyapatite or tricalcium phosphate. Phosphates are used in a variety of applications including personal care products, water treatment, industrial and institutional cleaning, and building and construction.
Phosphoric acid is an inorganic acid that is used as a starting point to produce many phosphate derivatives. The most common form of phosphoric acid is produced by adding sulfuric acid to phosphate rock.
The fact that phosphates can bring together and keep together many different kinds of compounds is the nature of their chemistry and has nothing to do with their safety. People misconstrue this fact, of the different uses of phosphates in foods and in industrial products, as an indication of whether they are safe (or not) for use in foods. That is like saying that table salt (sodium chloride) is unsafe to eat because it can also melt ice on your driveway. Yes, the same substance can do something “industrial” but that is not what makes it safe (or not) to put in your food.
No, you are absolutely not getting industrial chemicals in the foods you eat. Different grades of a material are allowed for use in different types of products. For example, an industrial grade phosphate is produced under different conditions than a food grade phosphate and is not allowed to be used as a food ingredient. On the other hand, phosphate food ingredients must be made under strict manufacturing conditions, dictated by the laws enforced by the US FDA (which inspects phosphate manufacturers just like other food ingredient manufacturers), and specific for the safety of foods and food ingredients. In addition, phosphate makers must ensure that their product meets “purity and identity” requirements before they can sell those ingredients to food makers. “Purity” means that there is nothing in the food ingredient that is going to make it unsafe to use in food and “identity” means that the food ingredient manufactured (and about to be shipped) is actually what the food maker ordered. These are all requirements that phosphate food ingredient manufacturers must follow before their sell their products. There are different requirements for industrial and other grades of phosphates.
- Genetic material – the DNA and RNA that makes each of us unique
- Cellular membranes
- Teeth and bones
- Human energy systems
- Cell signaling systems, which regulates diverse functions from the acid-base balance in the body to hormonal responses.
- Plants also need phosphorus, and phosphorus-containing compounds are vital to photosynthesis.
Ammonium phosphates are used to protect steel and building components, intumescent coatings and sealants. In addition, the aerial application of ammonium phosphates are used to control brush fires.
To read more about the use of phosphates in flame retardants, please click here.
To learn more about the use of Polyphosphoric Acid in asphalt binders, please click here.
Sodium Hexametaphosphate (SHMP), Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (TSPP) and Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) can be used as kaolin clay deflocculants for paper coatings. These paper coatings reduce ink bleeding and increase the opacity and brightness of paper.
To learn more about the use of phosphates in paint and coatings, click here.
Sodium Hexametaphosphate (SHMP) and Sodium Tripolyphosphate (STPP) are used as deflocculants in the mining and processing of clay materials and as dispersants in preparing slurries for whiteware, glaze and enamel manufacture. Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate (TSPP), Tetrapotassium Pyrophosphate (TKPP) and Potassium Tripolyphosphate (KTPP) help control ceramic product slurry viscosity, and can be supplemented with Disodium Phosphate (DSP) or Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) to act as buffering agents to control slurry pH and improve stability. Some polyphosphates can also be used as dispersants in wet process cements to improve pump-ability.
Orthophosphates can also be used in ceramic refractory systems as they provide low temperature chemical bonding to strengthen ceramic bonds. Phosphoric acid can also be used to assist with bonding. Orthophosphates are also used for their fluxing and optical properties for specialty glass and ceramic glazes.