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News Release

May 15, 2008

Levin and Voinovich Introduce Legislation to Limit Phosphates in Dishwashing Detergent


WASHINGTON – Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio) today introduced legislation to limit the use of phosphates in automatic dish detergents, which would help to reduce phosphates that wreak havoc on aquatic plants and fish in the Great Lakes and other waters.

“We have known for years that excessive phosphates can cause great harm to aquatic life,” Levin said. “When I was on the Detroit City Council, I worked to ban phosphates in laundry detergent to protect our water. It is important that we follow suit and place similar limits on phosphates in dishwashing detergent.”

“Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes has been a top priority of mine throughout my political career,” Sen. Voinovich said. “This mandated nationwide change to a household product Americans use everyday will make a difference in the health of nation’s most important natural resources from this day forward. By limiting phosphates that enter Lake Erie, we will reduce harmful algal blooms and the Dead Zone that emerges every summer in the lake, helping to protect the Great Lakes and its ecosystems for generations to come.”

The Levin-Voinovich bill would limit the use of phosphates in residential dish detergent by requiring the EPA, beginning in 2010, to ban the sale of residential dish washing detergent that has more than 0.5% phosphorous nationally.

A Minnesota study published in 2005 estimated that dishwashing detergent accounts for nearly 19 percent of the total amount of phosphorus entering municipal wastewater systems each year (http://www.pca.state.mn.us/hot/legislature/reports/phosphorus-report.html). Advances in detergent formulation in recent decades have allowed many companies to produce phosphate-free automatic dish detergents that work as effectively as those containing phosphates.

Phosphorus is a nutrient essential to both plant and animal life, but aquatic plants require far less phosphorus than land-based organisms. Excess amounts of phosphorus in water-bodies accelerate a process known as eutrophication, or the rapid growth of algae, which causes dense algal blooms to occur. Algal blooms can become so dense that they block submerged aquatic vegetation’s access to light, which restricts their ability to photosynthesize and survive. As algae blooms and takes over the remaining light and kills submerged aquatic vegetation, bacteria consume the dead vegetation, which deprives the water-body of its remaining oxygen. Algal blooms also cause severe environmental damage by killing fish and other aquatic organisms and result in “dead zones” that favor the survival of invasive species such as carp over native species.

Algal blooms also cause human health problems with the formation of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, which affect the liver. These toxins are deadly when ingested by humans.

Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia, including Michigan and Ohio, have either passed legislation or have legislation pending that would ban phosphates in automatic dish detergent in 2010. A few states, including Washington, Massachusetts, and Maryland, have already adopted a restriction on phosphates in residential dish detergents.

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