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State tightens restrictions for phosphorus in fertilizer

OLYMPIA – Finding fertilizer with phosphorus to spread on lawns in Washington will become difficult by 2013 under a law signed Thursday.

As part of the state’s ongoing restrictions on phosphorus in commercial household products, the new law discourages homeowners from putting fertilizers with that chemical on healthy lawns. Stores that sell turf fertilizers with phosphorus will be required to have them labeled for use on new or damaged lawns or for other permitted uses.

House Bill 1489 was one of more than a dozen bills signed Thursday by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Sponsored by Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, and supported by city officials, the law restricts the sale and use of lawn fertilizers with phosphorus in an effort to reduce the amount of that chemical in the state’s lakes, streams and rivers, where it fuels algae growth. Supporters of the bill said phosphorus isn’t necessary for healthy lawns, and when applied to established grass it’s less likely to be trapped in the soil, making it more likely to run off with excessive watering or heavy rains. Opponents argued that phosphorus applied properly rarely runs off and the research on its effects is conflicting.

The bill doesn’t restrict phosphorus in fertilizers for agricultural uses, vegetables or flowers. It’s primarily directed at home lawn use but also covers golf courses.

In the past, the state has restricted phosphorus in laundry detergent and dishwashing detergent. Those actions were usually greeted by complaints from some consumers who said the new products weren’t effective.

In signing the bill, Gregoire said she was disappointed the bill does not exempt fertilizer made from organic materials such as manure. Although they contain phosphorus, using them as fertilizer is a good way to manage waste, she said.

But because the bill doesn’t take effect until 2013, she urged Billig and other legislators to take that issue up in next year’s session.

Among other bills signed Thursday were laws to provide help for homeowners facing foreclosure, to allow wine and beer tasting at farmers markets on a trial basis, to waive the corkage fees at restaurants and to give more flexibility to local governments to set the terms for planning commissioners.


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