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Dishwashing detergents get phosphorus limit
The Associated Press
SPOKANE — A bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Christine Gregoire makes Washington the first state to adopt restrictions on the amount of phosphorus in dishwashing detergents.
The law, intended to complement an existing law banning phosphates in laundry detergent, takes effect in Spokane, Whatcom and Clark counties in July 2008 and will be effective statewide in July 2010.
It is the first of its kind to target a key ingredient in dishwashing detergents, its sponsor, Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said Monday.
The law prohibits sale or distribution of dishwashing detergent that contains more than 0.5 percent phosphorus by weight. The detergent commonly used in dishwashers now contains as much as 9 percent phosphorus, which industry spokesmen say helps clean dishes, break down grease and eliminate calcium stains.
Phosphorus in detergents and fertilizers that gets into rivers and lakes through wastewater and runoff promotes algae blooms, which reduce the amount of oxygen available for other aquatic plants and fish, the state Department of Ecology said.
With the Spokane River in downtown Spokane as a backdrop, the Democratic governor signed the bill, surrounded by a bipartisan cast of about a dozen Eastern Washington representatives and elected officials.
"Some people might think this is a minor issue, unless you live in Spokane," Gregoire said, noting costly ongoing efforts to clean up Spokane River pollution.
There are phosphate-free products on the market now that can be used when the ban goes statewide in 2010, the governor said.
But Dennis Griesing, a lobbyist for the Soap and Detergent Association, said consumers will suffer because phosphate detergents are most effective in dishwashers. Tests show consumers prefer phosphate detergents "because they deliver a high-performance result."
Similar legislation in several other states has failed because test marketing of phosphate-free dishwashing detergents was "rejected by consumers wholesale ... for lack of performance," said Griesing, whose Washington, D.C., trade organization represents U.S. household, industrial and institutional cleaning-products manufacturers.
Environmental groups pressing for a two-state cleanup of the Spokane River, which flows into Washington from Idaho, were pleased with the new law.
"By taking it out of the consumer flow, we are saving money on technology. It's a lot cheaper to get it out of the stores than to try to remove it through wastewater-treatment plants," said Rick Eichstaedt, a Center for Justice lawyer who represents the Sierra Club in ongoing negotiations for cleaning up the Spokane River.
Dishwashing detergents represent only a small amount of the total phosphorus discharged into the state's waters — 5 percent to 15 percent, Eichstaedt acknowledged. The biggest contributors are human sewage and fertilizers, he said.
"From a Spokane River cleanup perspective, it's not going to solve the problem, and in fact, it's not the major source of the problem," he said. "But it's something we viewed as low-hanging fruit — something we can do as individuals. Most people aren't going to notice a big difference."
Spokane County Commissioner Todd Mielke, a Republican, was one of the supporters of the ban after plans to build a new sewage-treatment plant faltered, in part, over the issue of phosphate loading.
Griesing said the detergent industry, which has fought off similar legislation in Minnesota and Vermont, does not plan to challenge the ban in court.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company