I have read with interest the various articles written on the subject of the removal of phosphates in all consumer dishwashing detergents. Last year, 16 states decided to ban phosphates, so the manufacturers figured it would be easier and cheaper to just have one formula nationwide. The change happened on July 1, 2010, and caught many consumers by surprise when their dishwashers no longer performed at previous levels.
The main problem with phosphates, which also come from agricultural and landscaping activities, is that they get into natural water bodies and act as fertilizer, accelerating plant and algae growth. When the plants and algae die, a feeding frenzy of bacteria consumes all the oxygen dissolved in the water, creating an environment inhospitable to fish and other aquatic life. These oxygen-devoid “dead zones” can occur in freshwater or in the ocean. In fact, two of the world’s largest dead zones are in the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the result of fertilizers running off farmland. Besides phosphates’ negative effect on water bodies, their presence in the environment can also be harmful to terrestrial wildlife and can trigger skin and eye irritation and allergies, among other ill effects, in humans.
It seems the manufacturers were reluctant to invest in a viable phosphate-free formula until actually required to do so. That requirement came last year and they produced a product that can clean dishes while still protecting the environment. It just took a little effort and money on their part.
While environmental education is important, to actually achieve the results needed to make an appreciable difference in our water quality and environment, changes must be mandated by our legislative and regulatory bodies. While the dedicated “green” minority may voluntarily change their lifestyle, we will have to require that the manufacturers and the general public do the right thing to really make the difference needed. And as this lesson on dishwashing detergent shows, Americans are innovative. If we mandate changes, a solution can be found that allows us to protect our environment while still maintaining our quality of life.
—David Casaletto, director, Upper White River Basin Foundation[[In-content Ad]]