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Phosphorus limit on dish soaps starts July 1 in Whatcom County

State Dept of Ecology News:

Department of Ecology News Release - May 1, 2008


Phosphorus limit on dish soaps starts July 1 in Whatcom County - Law effective statewide in 2010

BELLINGHAM – Dishwasher detergents for sale in Whatcom County must be nearly phosphorus free starting July 1, 2008.

In an ongoing effort to improve water quality in lakes, rivers, streams and marine waters, the state of Washington is phasing out the distribution and sale of detergents that contain more than 0.5 percent phosphorus.

Because soaps designed for washing dishes by hand are phosphorus-free already, the new requirement affects only soaps used in automatic dishwashers.

Although the ban on high-phosphorus dishwashing detergents doesn’t take effect statewide until 2010, state legislation brings better water-quality protection this year in two counties – Whatcom and Spokane – where delicate environmental conditions demand immediate action.

The law includes one exception to the 0.5 percent phosphorus limit: In Whatcom County only, the law allows the sale of single-use packets of automatic dishwasher detergent that contain up to 2.0 grams of phosphorus per packet.

“The work we’ve done in Lake Whatcom highlights the sensitivity of our environment to phosphorus,” said Steve Hood, a water quality engineer at Ecology’s Bellingham office. “Everyone should do what they can to minimize how much phosphorus enters the environment.”

Phosphorus feeds algae blooms, and when algae die, their decay uses up oxygen, choking lakes and streams and suffocating salmon and other aquatic life. Large algae blooms may also result in the need for more treatment of drinking water supplies.

Lake Whatcom, the drinking water source for 87,000 people, is designated as an impaired water body because its oxygen levels are below state water quality standards. Ecology is working to determine how much phosphorus the lake can process and meet state standards for oxygen.

"This law isn't going to be the single solution to our water quality problems," Hood said. "Protecting our water from algae growth and oxygen depletion will require a significant change in the way we deal with stormwater. But we can all help by doing our part."

Many producers of popular dishwashing detergent brands have not yet developed effective phosphorus-free products for automatic dishwashers. But a few detergents are available now that meet the new requirements, and larger producers say they are developing new products that will comply with the new restrictions.

The new limits on phosphorus in dishwasher detergent are an extension of low-phosphorus requirements in place for laundry detergent since 1994.

While the law establishes limits on phosphorus and deadlines for compliance, it does not provide for enforcement actions.

While the law establishes limits on phosphorus and deadlines for compliance, Richard Grout, manager of Ecology’s Bellingham office, said: “We’re relying on retailers and distributors to do the right thing . And people want clean water, so we anticipate Whatcom County residents will start reading labels to make sure the products on the shelves comply with the law.” (Updated: 3 p.m., 5-1-08)


Media Contacts: Katie Skipper, communications manager, 360-715-5205 desk, 360-303-9262 cell,
Steve Hood, water quality engineer, 360-715-5211,
Richard Grout, Bellingham Field Office Manager, 360-715-5200

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Protect Lake Whatcom: This website is maintained by a concerned citizen, developed for a Citizens' Initiative brought forth in 1999, with the purpose of directing the City to implement Goal #2 of their own 21 Goals for the management and preservation of the Reservoir. Copyright 1999-2008 © c: [an error occurred while processing this directive] Our bottom-line principles are: Protect the water supply in perpetuity -- maintain ecological viability of the lake for natural species -- distribute the financial burden fairly among those benefitting -- take immediate action if prudent -- take definitive action -- avoid actions which cut off future options.
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