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Hate Algae? Blame Your [Banned] Dish Detergent

By Olivia Leigh in News on Apr 6, 2007 7:25PM

When we were kids, we used to swim in a lake near our house. However, as the years went by, algae began to over take the water, and soon, the once fun summer spot became nothing more than a marshy swamp-like area of water riddled with insects.

2007_04_dishwashing.jpgWhile we aren't entirely sure what caused the great demise of the lake of our childhood, we were able to quite clearly see the negative effects of algae growth and pollution on bodies of water. For similar reasons, in 1971 Mayor [Richard J.] Daley enacted ordinances that banned detergents containing phosphates, natural minerals that are commonly used in cleaning supplies, from Chicago stores shelves.

However, despite constantly promoting the city as one of the most environmentally-conscious in the country, a recent investigation suggests that the ban has been enforced weakly, if at all, and phosphate-laded dishwashing detergents are still being regularly sold in Chicago stores.

According to the Tribune, some of the most popular dishwashing detergents, including Palmolive, Electrasol, Cascade and Glass Magic all contain phosphates, ranging in amounts from 3.3 percent to up to 20 percent.

More about exciting phosphates below the jump!

While the popularity of the products may lead some people to think phosphates aren’t a serious issue, the EPA suggests otherwise. According to the agency, phosphates can create excessive amounts of algae, which, aside from being an eyesore, can also result in:

  • increased numbers of insects, crustaceans and fish in the waterway which, when they and the algae die and decompose, can reduce oxygen in the water to such low levels that other aquatic organisms are killed
  • the release of toxins by some cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) that can kill other organisms and make the water unsuitable for humans, livestock and wildlife

If you're one of those law-abiding sorts, or if you have a penchant for clean lakes and eco-friendly living, options are available. Ecover Ecological, Seventh Generation, Planet and Trader Joe’s detergents are all phosphorous-free.

Although the state and city have been lax on enforcing the ban in the past as detergent companies fought diligently in courts to keep phosphates in their products, legislation is currently working its way through Illinois’ General Assembly that would ban all but trace amounts of phosphates from detergents by July 2010. The Metropolitan Water Reclamation District states that, if phosphates bans are effectively enforced in the city, about 700 tons of phosphorus a year would be kept out of the environment, enough to potentially create 350,000 tons of algae.

Will this news have you making any changes to your dishwashing habits (if you're lucky enough to have a dishwasher)? Or will you continue to get your phosphate fix each month, waiting until the man lays down the law three years from now?

"Kitchen" by Flickr user betsyjean79