Lawmakers curtail phosphate ban


State legislators want Spokane to go it alone this year in enforcing groundbreaking limits on phosphates in dish detergent.

The state Senate this week approved a House bill that eliminates or weakens the strict phosphate restrictions that were supposed to become effective in two other counties July 1.

If Gov. Chris Gregoire signs the bill, Spokane County will have the strictest requirements on phosphates until a statewide ban begins in July 2010.

The limits will be the strictest in the nation, said Dennis Griesing, of the Soap and Detergent Association, in an interview last month.

Gregoire spokesman Aaron Toso said the governor is reviewing the legislation. She has until April 5 to decide whether to sign it.

Spokane County commissioners spoke out against the changes, arguing that major detergent companies would have less incentive to have phosphate-free options ready by July 1 if they only had to comply in Spokane County.

But of the 15 legislators who represent at least a portion of the county, only Sen. Majority Leader Lisa Brown and Sen. Chris Marr voted against the legislation.

“I do see it as a step back, but fortunately Spokane is still covered,” Brown said.

In the House, the measure passed unanimously. The Senate vote was 47-2.

“This just gets them a little more time to get the wrinkles ironed out,” said Rep. Joel Kretz, R-Wauconda, who voted for the original phosphate restrictions in 2006. “I never heard from anyone in Spokane asking for anything different.”

Spokane leaders and environmental groups pushed for the phosphate limits in 2006 to slow the amount of phosphorus entering the Spokane River and other waterways. Phosphorus encourages algae growth, which depletes oxygen and endangers fish. Experts have said phosphorus entering the river through sewage is partly to blame for large summer algae outbreaks in Lake Spokane.

A compromise in 2006 pushed the statewide ban to 2010 but required Clark, Whatcom and Spokane counties to comply starting this year. Main-brand detergents have phosphate content ranging from 3 percent to 9 percent. The new restrictions limit phosphate to one-half of 1 percent.

The changes approved this week would pull Clark County from having to comply early. Whatcom County remains a part of the early ban for regular powder and liquid detergents, but the bill makes an exception in that county to allow phosphorus in single-use detergent packets.

Marr said phosphate-free detergents already exist on the market and there is no reason to delay implementation in Clark and Whatcom counties.

“This is not like breakthrough stem cell research,” he said.

Marr asserted that the bill was shaped by soap manufacturers.

“They were present in the wings,” he said.

Last month, the prime sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, said he introduced the bill at the request of another person. But he declined to identify who made the request.

Marr said the measure received little attention because Spokane County restrictions were not affected.

“Had anyone attempted to touch the standard in Spokane, it would have been a huge, huge issue,” Marr said.

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