Planet Money | P Is For Phosphorus
Airdate: January 26, 2018
By Karen Duffin and Robert Smith
Credit: Ahren Britton, Ostara
Phosphorus is in pretty much everything: bombs, toothpaste, cheese. It’s irreplaceable. Nothing can live without it and it’s only economically recoverable in a few places. Like Morocco, and China.
Most of our phosphorus—or phosphate, which is its usable form—goes into fertilizer. The farmers pile it on, and then the bulk of it just washes right off into the rivers and then ocean. It’s really hard to get phosphorus out of the ocean, which means, as far as we’re concerned, that phosphorus is pretty much gone once it’s in the water.
Today on the show, we scour the earth for one of the building blocks of the modern world, and life itself. We’ll find about the world’s biggest mine, a place almost no outsiders have been. (The 60-mile-long conveyor belt we mention in this episode is on this google map in satellite view. It’s marked ‘bande transporteuse.’)
Then we’ll head to a little town in Vermont, where we’ll meet a group of resourceful citizens who have other ideas about where we might find this essential element.
EPISODE #820: P Is For Phosphorus
Listen > 20:02