Hoping to stem the smuggling of banned phosphate-laden detergents into Spokane County, the state Department of Ecology is highlighting the benefits of eco-friendly brands.
High-phosphate detergents have been banned in the county for 10 months, and the ban will extend to the rest of the state next year. But people dissatisfied with the performance of the available suds have been driving to Idaho and elsewhere to buy the old stuff.
“We hear you,” Ecology Director Jay Manning said Tuesday.
The agency acknowledged that some people may be getting poor performance from phosphate-free detergents because Spokane water is very hard, thanks to lots of minerals that cause it to be resistant to soap. Residents were urged to make a little extra effort to benefit the environment.
“While manufacturers are working to increase the quality and effectiveness of phosphate-free detergents on the market, we want to thank those Spokane-area residents who are complying with the new law and going the extra mile to protect the Spokane River from algae blooms and fish kills,” Manning said.
Jeffrey Hollender, president of detergent maker Seventh Heaven Inc., said the notion that eco-friendly products don’t work well is wrong.
“We’ve sold million and millions and millions of packages of dish detergent,” Hollender said. “You could find one person in 100 or a couple in a 1,000 who are not happy, sure. But the success of the product would not exist if most people weren’t very happy.”
Seventh Heaven products work as well as high-phosphate detergents, without any special effort, Hollender said. But not all phosphate-free brands work as well, he said.
The Ecology Department said the reduction in phosphate use is already paying off.
“The city of Spokane is already seeing signs of improvement in the amount of phosphorus that comes into the city’s wastewater treatment plant,” said Jim Bellatty who manages Ecology’s water quality office in Spokane.
The agency suggested that local residents check consumer publications to find the best phosphate-free soap to use.
It also suggests choosing a brand that contains some form of salt to help soften the water and allow the soap to grab grease and food particles.
Some manufacturers recommend using a rinse aid to help soften the water and reduce spotting. Distilled white vinegar also can do that, the agency said.
The department says one pound of phosphorus in the river can grow 700 pounds of algae. When those plants decompose, they use up the oxygen in the water, which kills fish.
“The easiest way to remove phosphorus from the wastewater is to not put it in to begin with,” Bellatty said. “Getting phosphorus out of the Spokane River and Lake Spokane is a major community issue, and it’s up to us all to help.”