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Reducing Phosphorus Pollution to Improve Utah's Water Quality
In the ongoing effort to improve the quality of Utah’s waters, the state is reducing one of the most common causes of pollution: phosphorus in household products.
A new law which took effect July 1, 2010 prohibits retailers from selling dishwashing detergents with phosphorus levels greater than 0.5 percent by weight.
Phosphorus helps spur the growth of algae which clogs waterways and depletes the oxygen needed for fish to survive. Unsightly algae blooms also reduce the appeal of Utah’s recreational waters and raise the cost of treating drinking water.
Industry and wastewater treatment plants account for some phosphorus, while the rest comes from a variety of “nonpoint” sources. These sources are hard to trace with no obvious point of discharge, such as stormwater runoff, septic tanks, and agriculture.
Automatic dishwasher detergent contributes to phosphorus entering municipal wastewater plants. Treatment plants can remove much of the phosphorus in wastewater, but they cannot treat and remove all of it. The phosphorus that treatment plants cannot remove is released into Utah’s waters in treated wastewater.
When we reduce our use of phosphorus-based products we can considerably improve this pollution problem. The best way to protect our state’s water is to avoid putting phosphorus into it to begin with.
The 2008 Utah Legislature passed House Bill 303 to help prevent phosphorus from being discharged into Utah’s rivers, lakes, and streams through publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants and individual septic tank systems. Random inspections will be performed at retail outlets which sell dish detergent in order to determine compliance. Retailers who have not removed these detergents will be notified and can ultimately face fines if they fail to meet the legal intent.
Phosphorus in dishwashing detergents softens “hard” water, which reduces the spots and film on dishes. Phosphorus also makes the water’s pH more alkaline, which can help in food removal. Alternatives to phosphorus, such as enzymes, have been shown to be just as effective at food removal and spot reduction as phosphorus-containing soaps.
The following links provide information about cleaning techniques, cleaning supplies, and other helpful tips for getting your dishes clean with the new detergents.
- American Cleaning Institute Series on Dishwashing
- Care2 Blog on Cleaner Dishes
- Consumer Reports Blog on Dishwashing Detergents
- Consumer Reports Blog on Hard Water and Its Effects on Dishes
- Consumer Reports Green Choices Ten Best Low-Phosphate Detergent Recommendations
- Fact Sheet Re: HB0246 Repeal of Phosphorus Limit in Dishwashing Detergents
- Utah State University Extension Service Cleaning Tips