In an effort to improve water quality in Washington waters, the state is reducing one of the most common causes of pollution: phosphorus in household products.
There are over 260 bodies of water polluted because of nutrients like phosphorus in Washington State. Phosphorus is a common ingredient in household detergents and fertilizers, where it is often described as “phosphate.” It is used in many industrial processes. Phosphorus also occurs naturally in soil and human and animal wastes.
In water, phosphorus behaves as a fertilizer, accelerating plant and algae growth. When those plants and algae die in the water, bacteria consume oxygen that is dissolved in the water. When this happens, less oxygen is available for fish and aquatic life that need oxygen to survive. Excess phosphorus in drinking water is difficult to remove, and also can require an increase in treatment chemicals which adds cost.
Industry and wastewater treatment plants account for about fifty percent of the phosphorus contributed to Washington waters. The other half comes from a variety of “nonpoint” sources which are hard to trace such as such as storm-water runoff, septic tanks and agriculture.
When we reduce our use of phosphorus-based products we can considerably improve this pollution problem. The best way to protect our water sources is to avoid putting phosphorus into it to begin with.
There are alternatives to phosphorus-containing detergents that can be just as effective at food removal and spot reduction as phosphorus-containing soaps – Palmolive has a phosphorus free version. Ask your supermarket(s) about phosphorus free products.
Even if your state isn’t regulating phosphorus in its water systems (as yet) we all need to start protecting our lakes and ground water. I believe that regulators should also ban phosphorus from our laundry detergents.