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New York approves ban on fertilizer

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A similar measure in New Jersey passed a key committee and will likely pass this fall.

| August 17, 2010


ALBANY, N.Y. — A new law to improve water quality makes it illegal for stores in New York to stock fresh supplies of household dishwasher detergents that contain phosphorus.
Stores have 60 days to sell old inventories. Sales for commercial use are to end July 1, 2013.
Environmental officials say phosphorus drains into New York lakes and rivers, which turn green with algae, degrading drinking water and reducing oxygen that fish need. More than 100 bodies of water in the state are considered impaired, including Cayuga Lake and Lake Champlain.
With similar measures now effective in 16 other states, including neighboring Vermont and Pennsylvania, many detergent makers produce low-phosphate formulas. Consumer tests show some are cleaning better than even earlier detergents considered environmentally friendly.
"The impact of phosphorus is particularly significant in lakes and reservoirs. Over half of all the lake acres in the state have water quality impacts for which phosphorus is a contributing cause," according to a Department of Environmental Conservation analysis.
As a cleaning agent, dishwasher detergents may contain up to 9 percent phosphorus by weight, and as a plant nutrient, lawn fertilizer contains up to 3 percent. The New York law, signed last month by Gov. David Paterson, lowers permissible levels to 0.5 percent for household dishwasher detergent and 0.67 percent for lawn fertilizer.
The detergent restocking ban took effect Saturday.
"We're chipping away at sources of pollution. This is one. Nitrogen is another," said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. Pesticides are a third, and the agency backed legislation enacted earlier this year that will ban the use of pesticides on schoolyards and playing fields.
The agency says that while dishwasher detergent and lawn fertilizer are only two sources of phosphorus, they are relatively easy and inexpensive to control. Steps were taken in the early 1970s to eliminate phosphorus from hand soap and laundry detergents, but exempting dishwasher detergent, which was not common at the time.
Of the phosphorus found in municipal wastewater, dishwashing detergent accounts for 9 percent to 34 percent. Lawn fertilizer can account for about 50 percent of phosphorus found in storm runoff.
The provision on lawn fertilizers prohibits applying the compounds between Dec. 1 and April 1 or near surface water. It contains exceptions for new lawns or when a test shows an existing lawn has too little phosphorus. It does not affect fertilizer for agriculture or gardens.
The provision was modeled after Minnesota's law. Maine, Florida and Wisconsin also have fertilizer controls.
A package of bills in New Jersey aimed at restoring the health of Barnegat Bay but criticized by some as too intrusive on county government and the lawn care industry cleared two key legislative committees.
The legislation would impose the most stringent regulations in the United States on fertilizer manufacturers, who today put on the hard sell to defeat the measure.
"Unless we’re willing to examine our impact on the bay’s ecosystem and do something about it, the water quality and sustainability of the bay will continue to deteriorate and deteriorate until it becomes a lifeless cesspool of pollution,’’ said Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex), chairman of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee. "We owe it to the residents of the Shore and the thousands of people who flock to the Barnegat Bay each year for vacation to try to reverse course on decades of misuse and neglect."
During a special joint committee hearing in August at the Toms River municipal building, Smith’s committee, along with the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee, spent nearly six hours taking testimony before a crowd of more than 400 people. The bills head to the full Senate and Assembly for consideration, most likely this fall, said Assembly John McKeon (D-Essex), chairman of the Assembly committee.
The four bills are designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen flowing into the bay after rainfalls. Heavy levels of nutrients spur excessive growth of aquatic plants and algae, reducing oxygen levels for fish and choking off native species.
One of the measures would require 30 percent of nitrogen in lawn fertilizer to be of slow-release form. It would prohibit the application of fertilizer within 5 to 10 feet of any water body, depending on how it is dispersed.
Fertilizer industry representatives said the bill lacks scientific foundation and would drive business from New Jersey suppliers whose buyers would perceive the state products as inferior.
"The legislation will be strong and defensible only if it’s on facts and science,’’ said Stephanie Pizzoferrato, a spokeswoman for the Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. "It will serve as a model for the eastern region of the United States."
Willie deCamp Jr., chairman of Save Barnegat Bay, said the 30 percent rate was based on recommendations of several universities.

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