BREMERTON, Wash. — A ban on the sale of phosphate-laden dishwasher detergent is going statewide Thursday.
Familiar brands are still available but they will have lower levels of phosphates to meet the limits that first began in Spokane and Whatcom counties in 2008.
Experts say phosphates promote plant growth and may degrade water quality in lakes and streams.
“It’s more effective and less expensive to decrease what goes down the drain than it is to treat it at the plant. This way, we’re all part of the solution,” said Washington Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, told the Kitsap Sun. Ormbsy sponsored the 2006 bill to limit phosphates in dishwasher detergents.
The Oregon Legislature passed a law in 2009 that lowered the phosphorous limit for automatic dishwasher detergents from 8.7 percent to 0.5 percent.
Dennis Griesing, vice president of government affairs for the American Cleaning Institute, said low-phosphate formulas available in 2008 did not work as well in hard water, so some shoppers in Spokane had been crossing into Idaho to buy dishwasher soap with phosphates.
But new detergents are on the market, and they’re getting better reviews.
In Western Washington, with softer water, people seem satisfied with the new formulas.
Starting July 1, it will be illegal for retailers in Washington and Oregon to sell dishwasher detergents containing more than 0.5 percent phosphorus by weight. The new phosphate limit does not apply to commercial dishwasher products.
“Phosphorous is like a fertilizer. It increases algae and aquatic weed growth in water bodies,” said Bernie Duffy, natural resource specialist with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
He said too much algae can deplete the oxygen supply necessary for healthy fish and aquatic life.
Since 1994, Washington has limited phosphorus in laundry detergent to 0.5 percent. Detergents for hand-washing dishes generally contain no phosphorus.
Sandy Howard, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Ecology, said sewage treatment plants and private septic systems remove phosphate, but a portion still makes its way into lakes and streams.
When the limit went into effect in Spokane, officials reported a 10.7 percent decrease in phosphate coming into the city’s sewage-treatment plant, which discharges into the Spokane River.
The phosphate limit on dishwasher detergents becomes law in 15 states on Thursday, but Griesing said only the new detergents will be sold through U.S. and Canada in a short time.
Other states with a legal limit are Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.