LANSING— Phosphorus from dishwasher detergents is creating accelerated algae growth and dead zones – areas of water in which low oxygen levels make it hard for fish plants and other aquatic life to survive – in Michigan waters such as Lake Erie.
Toxic blooms, putrid smells, stagnant lakes and declining fish populations are all caused by depletion of oxygen due to phosphorus in the water, said Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) resource policy assistant Erin McDonough.
These problems have caused legislators to consider the issue.
Democratic Sens. Liz Brater of Ann Arbor, Gilda Jacobs of Huntington Woods, Burton Leland of Detroit and Robert L. Emerson of Flint have introduced a bill to ban the selling of dishwasher detergents that contain more than half a percent of phosphorus.
The bill is pending in the Senate Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee.
Phosphorus has been largely eliminated from laundry detergent. However, phosphorus is still permitted in dishwasher detergent. It wasn’t included in the 1995 ban because dishwashers were less common at the time, according to MUCC.
Some dishwasher detergents with phosphorus currently use P-alternatives in their solutions. The Soap and Detergent Association, an industry group, claims that phosphates are necessary in dishwasher detergents because without phosphorus, dishwashers will rust and deteriorate faster.
Shuster Laboratories conducted experiments in an independent study in Canton, Mass. Results showed that although phosphorus-free detergents may be more expensive, they are comparable to phosphorous detergents.
MUCC projects the average additional cost per household of using P-free detergent to be $20 per year.
Since Lake Erie is shallow, too much phosphorous is a particular concern. Phosphorus – also found in fertilizers which run off land into the lake – is causing increased algal growth, which causes problems for municipal, recreation and fishery use of water because the water smells, is potentially toxic and fish populations are decreasing.
Supporters of the bill include the Detroit Audubon Society, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan Republicans for Environmental Protection and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
“We need to close loopholes for other detergents,” said Bob Day, non-point source unit chief of DEQ. “Ten to 50 percent of dishwasher detergents make up domestic sewage in lakes.”