Going phosphate-free

Our view : The proposed delay for greener dishwashing is all wet

May 01, 2008

Last month, Colgate-Palmolive began marketing several phosphate-free dishwashing detergents under the name eco+. It's not hard to understand the new product's appeal. Many states, including Maryland, have required that dishwashing detergent be rid of the phosphates that are threatening to destroy aquatic life.

So why did the General Assembly last month approve legislation postponing Maryland's phosphate ban for six months from January to July 2010? Environmental groups say it was to benefit one company, Proctor & Gamble, which hasn't yet released its own version of a phosphate-free product. That's a triumph for the Cincinnati-based corporation, which can point to a handful of other states that are waiting the full two years to impose a ban. But it's a tragedy for the Chesapeake Bay and an insult to those making real sacrifices to protect the nation's largest estuary.

Large corporations have argued against phosphate bans before. Two decades ago, some warned that removing phosphates from laundry detergent would leave us with permanent ring-around-the-collar. Instead, reformulated laundry soap proved just as effective.

Extending the ban to dishwashers would spare Maryland's waterways an additional 30,000 pounds of excess phosphorus each year. Like nitrogen, phosphorus is a nutrient that feeds algae blooms, which die and sap vital dissolved oxygen from the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

Gov. Martin O'Malley can spare the bay those additional thousands of pounds of pollution by vetoing the bill. At a time when the state is moving to more tightly restrict shoreline development and limit blue crab harvests so severely that many watermen and seafood packers are likely to go out of business, it seems reasonable to ask the public to merely change brands of dishwashing detergent.

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