Undercurrents: beneath the obvious

March 27, 2007

Phosphorus in Detergent Causing Algae Blooms Again

A blast from the past comes this news article in the South Bend Tribune. Phosphorus was a big problem during the 1960s and 1970s when most major brands of laundry detergent used it. That was then. Now phosphorus has become a leading ingredient in dishwasher detergent with devastating affects:

Some Michigan beaches may be covered with rotting green scum instead of white sand and frolicking children this summer, environmentalists warn.

State law doesn’t limit the amount of phosphorus in dishwasher detergents, which has led to widespread algae blooms and fish kills. … Algae mats are also a problem in Wisconsin, in the Saginaw Bay area, Little Traverse Bay and Lake Erie.

Sen. Patricia Birkholz, R-Saugatuck Township, and Sen. Liz Brater, D-Ann Arbor, have introduced bills to establish a limit of 0.5 percent phosphates in dishwasher detergents by 2010. If the legislation passes, Michigan would be the second state, after Washington, to impose such tight restrictions on phosphorus in dishwasher detergents.

The federal Clean Water Act, passed in 1977, set the basic structure for regulating discharges of pollution, including phosphates in laundry and other soaps. Although the situation has improved, the federal law allows continued use of high levels of phosphates in dishwasher detergents.

Environmental groups and businesses, including Procter & Gamble, are pushing passage of the legislation. Michigan is leading the charge.

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1 Comment »

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