Reducing phosphorus will improve water quality, reduce algae blooms

MADISON — Wisconsin residents will be able to run dishwashers with less concern about negatively impacting the quality of the state’s waters after a law substantially limiting phosphorus content in automatic dishwasher soap takes effect today.

“Phosphorus is the primary culprit responsible for triggering the unsightly and smelly algae blooms that kill fish, destroy ecosystems, and diminish our enjoyment of Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams,” said Amber Meyer Smith, program director at Clean Wisconsin. “Every pound of phosphorus entering our waters can produce 500 pounds of harmful algae, so reducing even small amounts of phosphorus pollution can have a big impact on the quality of our water.”

The federal government lists nearly one-half of Wisconsin’s waterways as impaired due to phosphorus pollution, and reports of human illness and dog deaths resulting from dangerous blue-green algae blooms have been on the rise in recent years.

The law signed in November aims to reduce algae events and improve water quality by limiting phosphorus content in automatic dishwasher detergents sold in the state to no more than .5 percent.

“Cleaning our waters and preventing harmful algae events requires reducing phosphorus from all possible sources,” said Smith. “Limiting phosphorus in automatic dishwashing detergents alone will not eliminate harmful algae blooms, but it represents one of many important steps being taken to improve the quality of our waters.”

The law takes effect one week after the Natural Resources Board voted unanimously to strengthen rules to reduce phosphorus pollution from farms, factories, and sewage treatment plants, the largest sources of phosphorus pollution. These strengthened rules now require legislative approval to become effective.

“It’s disappointing to see Wisconsin’s beautiful lakes, rivers and streams tarnished by unsightly and foul-smelling algae blooms, but encouraging to see our leaders working diligently to restore our invaluable waters,” said Smith. “The new ban on phosphorus in dish detergent combined with the Legislature’s approval of revised rules reducing phosphorus from its largest sources would represent a major step forward for cleaner, healthier waters in Wisconsin.”