Friday, July 2, 2010

Phosphorus ban takes effect for dish detergent - one small step toward cleaner swimmin' holes

Michigan’s beaches and swimmin’ holes will be busy this weekend with 90-degree temps and an armada of Michiganders doing what Michiganders do best. Swimming in the world’s best freshwater ecosystem and, uh, drinking beer.

So it’s timely that one small step toward keeping our beaches clean took effect yesterday. That’s when it officially became illegal to sell automatic dishwasher detergent with phosphates in them. Phosphates, as Tina Lam’s excellent Detroit Free Press story explains, contribute nutrients to our waterways that result in runaway weed growth, algae blooms, and the depletion of life-giving oxygen in the water.

A similar ban on phosphorus in lawn fertilizers is pending in the Michigan House of Representatives. More than 95 percent of residential soils tested have more than enough phosphorus – the remainder runs off into storm sewers and, eventually, into creeks, rivers and lakes. It’s an especially quick assault on a waterway when lakefront property owners use phosphorus-laden fertilizers. There should be a special place in hell reserved for riparian landowners who fertilize with phosphorus to the water’s edge.

Anyway, Tina’s article points out that phosphorus detergents do get dishes cleaner, which is generally true. But as more states go to phosphorus-free, good old American ingenuity is already making better and better products.

It reminds me of the furor over low flush toilets that were mandated in the mid-1990s. Critics screamed that 1.6 gallons per flush could NEVER do the job. Then Congressman Joe Knollenberg of Farmington Hills was the loudest, speaking about "suffering Americans" forced to use “tiny toilets.” You don’t hear that much anymore. Seems our entrepreneurs were up to the task.

But even if it takes a while for the phosphorus-free detergents to catch up, isn’t it worth a extra minute of scraping dishes to protect our beaches and swimming holes?

Happy Independence Day weekend. And remember, we’re celebrating our freedom from political and religious oppression and taxation without representation. As far as I know, the Founding Fathers said nothing about freedom to pollute our lakes to escape the oppression of rinsing a dinner plate.

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1 comment:

  1. Yes and now none of our dishes are getting clean and we're running our dishwasher two, sometimes three times. How is this good for the environment? It defeats the purpose!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/science/earth/19clean.html

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