January 19, 2010 in City, Idaho

Is lawn fertilizer next for phosphorus ban?

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Senate bill 6289

Summary and history

Bill language

OLYMPIA — Washington, which already has restrictions on laundry and dishwasher detergents, could ban phosphorus in lawn fertilizers.

A bill before the state Senate would require low- or no-phosphorus fertilizers for lawns, although not for golf courses or on farms.

It got a series of thumbs-up Tuesday from environmental groups and Spokane businesses that included Avista and Inland Empire Paper Co..

It was opposed, however, by agriculture groups and landscapers.

Phosphorus can stimulate algae growth in lakes and streams. The city and county of Spokane, as well as other large producers of waste water along the Spokane River such as Inland Empire Paper, are under orders to reduce phosphorus. Inland Empire Paper is a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Some phosphorus in lawn fertilizers do not bind with the soil and run off lawns from watering or rain, the Senate Environment, Water and Energy Committee was told. Storm water runoff is typically not treated by sewage facilities that can remove phosphorus.

“This is critically important in places such as Spokane, which are trying to reach the lowest phosphorus levels in the country,” said Rick Eichstaedt, who heads the Center for Justice’s Spokane Riverkeeper program. It’s particularly important for residents along Long Lake, where noxious algae blooms every summer, he added.

Heather Hanson, who represents farm groups and landscapers, said phosphorus occurs naturally in the environment, and it’s impossible to separate it from some organic fertilizers. The bill requires expensive soil tests and ties enforcement actions to neighbor complaints, she said.

“Do you really want neighbors complaining about neighbors?” Hanson asked.

State Sen. Chris Marr, D-Spokane, a bill co-sponsor, noted farmers and landscapers are exempted and wondered about their opposition: “Is this just a general concern, or a love of phosphates?”

Washington banned phosphate laundry detergents in 1993, and began a similar ban on phosphate dishwashing detergents in 2008. The ban started in Spokane, Clark and Whatcom counties, and is scheduled to take effect in the rest of the state this year.

The change in dishwashing detergent has led to complaints from some consumers that the products without phosphorus don’t do as good of a job, and reports of people driving to Idaho or elsewhere outside the county to buy the old detergent.

Eight other states have some type of restriction on phosphorus in fertilizer.

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