Bill will help reduce unsightly algae growth and fish kills in state waters

MADISON — The Wisconsin State Legislature took an important step to clean Wisconsin’s lakes, rivers and streams today when the Senate unanimously voted to pass Assembly Bill 281, a bill that substantially limits phosphorus content in common household automatic dishwasher soap.

“Phosphorus from automatic dishwashing detergent runs into our lakes, rivers and streams everyday, causing unsightly and smelly algae blooms that kill fish, destroy ecosystems, and detract from the natural beauty of Wisconsin waters,” said Amber Meyer Smith, program director at Clean Wisconsin the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “The bill passed today will help make Wisconsin waters more enjoyable for state residents who recreate on these waters as well as for the millions of tourists who come to visit them every year.”

Phosphorus is a nutrient that wreaks havoc by encouraging unabated algae growth as is often seen on the shores of Wisconsin waters. While laws have required other household cleaning products to be nearly phosphorus-free for years, prior to Assembly Bill 281, no such regulation limited the use of the harmful nutrient in automatic dishwasher detergents.

“Every bit of phosphorus we can keep from running into our environment will help make Wisconsin waters cleaner and more enjoyable,” said Smith. “Eliminating harmful phosphorus from automatic dish detergent is an easy and logical step toward cleaning our water and our environment.”

The bill passed the State Assembly in June by a vote of 60-37 and now requires only the signature of the Governor. The law will then become effective as of July 1st, 2010, allowing time for stores to sell current inventory of automatic dishwasher soap and make the switch to phosphorus-free detergent. Twelve other states have already passed similar laws, and AB 281 saw broad-based support from industry, environmentalists, lake associations, and sewage treatment plants who want to reduce phosphorus discharges to our waterways.

Beyond entering Wisconsin waters through household cleaning products, phosphorus also runs off of farm fields and city streets, contributing to the problem. The authors of AB 281, Representative Spencer Black and Senator Mark Miller, also passed a bill into law earlier this year to restrict phosphorus in lawn fertilizer.

“Today’s vote will help clean our waters by effectively banning phosphorus from automatic dish soap, and we look forward to continuing our work with the legislature to further improve the quality of our waters by limiting phosphorus runoff from other sources including farm fields and city streets,” said Smith.