From: Amy Cannata, The Spokesman-Review
Published December 1, 2005 12:00 AM

Industry in Lather on Plan To Ban Phosphates

Spokane, Washington area officials and environmentalists faced off Tuesday with detergent and fertilizer industry representatives in the brewing battle over whether banning phosphates from dishwasher detergents and lawn fertilizers is a necessary step to clean up the Spokane River.

"Phosphate is central to cleaning in automatic dishwasher detergents, said Dennis Griesing, vice president of government affairs for the Soap and Detergent Association.

Tuesday's town hall meeting was the first opportunity the public had to ask questions about phosphates and offer opinions about banning it from dishwasher detergents and lawn fertilizers, and it was the first time local officials invited detergent and fertilizer businesses to participate in the discussion.

Griesing and other industry representatives said that phosphates are necessary to remove stains and sanitize dishes, adding that consumers prefer conventional brands to phosphate-free brands.

Several people disagreed. Among them was Spokane resident Doreen Kelsey, who said she's been using a phosphate-free brand for a year and has been pleased with the results.

Rick Eichstaedt, an attorney with the Center for Justice, which is representing the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said testing of phosphate-free products has shown they are equally capable of sanitizing dishes, and that a ban will help protect the river.

"A dishwasher detergent ban is an easy and low-cost solution," said Eichstaedt.

A recent survey of Spokane County and Kootenai County voters found a majority support such a ban.

But Metro Cafe owner Andrew Swanson, who represented the Spokane chapter of the Washington State Restaurant Association, said that phosphates do a better job of cleaning dishes.

As for lawn fertilizers, switching to phosphate-free products could be costly for companies that have already stocked up on products with phosphates, said Mike Fairburn, owner of Living Water Lawn and Tree Care.

He added that some lawns need phosphates, and that a phosphate ban could also be problematic when it comes to using organic products like compost and manure.

The proposal is part of a larger effort to clean up the Spokane River and Long Lake (also known as Lake Spokane), which fail state and federal water standards.

Phosphate bans would have to be passed by individual jurisdictions, or taken up by the Spokane Regional Health District or the state. Idaho communities that discharge treated sewage into the Spokane River are also studying phosphate bans.

Phosphates are key culprits because they promote algae growth which in turn cuts down on the amount of dissolved oxygen in the river. That oxygen is essential for aquatic life.

Those present disagreed on how large a portion of that problem is caused by phosphate-containing fertilizers and dishwasher detergents. Estimates ranged from 3 percent to 34 percent.

"This is a significant chunk, and it's something we can do something about," said Mike Peterson with local environmental group The Lands Council.

In addition to the proposed phosphate ban, wastewater dischargers and environmentalists say that better treatment technology, water re-use for irrigation and industry, water conservation, septic tank elimination and better farming practices will be essential to meet state phosphorous limits for the river.

Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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