Environmental Chemistry of Phosphonates

Water Res. 2003 Jun;37(11):2533-46. doi: 10.1016/S0043-1354(03)00079-4.


Phosphonates are anthropogenic complexing agents containing one or more C-PO(OH)(2) groups. They are used in numerous technical and industrial applications as chelating agents and scale inhibitors. Phosphonates have properties that differentiate them from other chelating agents and that greatly affect their environmental behavior. Phosphonates have a very strong interaction with surfaces, which results in a significant removal in technical and natural systems. Due to this strong adsorption, little or no remobilization of metals is expected. No biodegradation of phosphonates during water treatment is observed but photodegradation of the Fe(III)-complexes is rapid. Aminopolyphosphonates are also rapidly oxidized in the presence of Mn(II) and oxygen and stable breakdown products are formed that have been detected in wastewater. The lack of information about phosphonates in the environment is linked to analytical problems of their determination at trace concentrations in natural waters. Further method development is urgently needed in this area, including speciation of these compounds. With the current knowledge on speciation, we can conclude that phosphonates are mainly present as Ca and Mg-complexes in natural waters and therefore do not affect metal speciation or transport.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adsorption
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Chemical Precipitation
  • Metals, Heavy / chemistry*
  • Organophosphonates / chemistry*
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Water / chemistry
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Organophosphonates
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Water