Monday, May 19, 2008

Legislators Take Aim On Reducing Phosphorous

May 15: Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and George Voinovich (R-OH introduced legislation to limit the use of phosphates in automatic dish detergents, which would help to reduce phosphates that wreak havoc on aquatic plants and fish in the Great Lakes and other waters. The Levin-Voinovich bill (S. 3022) would limit the use of phosphates in residential dish detergent by requiring the EPA, beginning in 2010, to ban the sale of residential dish washing detergent that has more than 0.5% phosphorous nationally.

Levin said, “We have known for years that excessive phosphates can cause great harm to aquatic life. When I was on the Detroit City Council, I worked to ban phosphates in laundry detergent to protect our water. It is important that we follow suit and place similar limits on phosphates in dishwashing detergent.” Voinovich said, “Protecting and restoring the Great Lakes has been a top priority of mine throughout my political career. This mandated nationwide change to a household product Americans use everyday will make a difference in the health of nation’s most important natural resources from this day forward. By limiting phosphates that enter Lake Erie, we will reduce harmful algal blooms and the Dead Zone that emerges every summer in the lake, helping to protect the Great Lakes and its ecosystems for generations to come.”

A Minnesota study published in 2005 estimated that dishwashing detergent accounts for nearly 19 percent of the total amount of phosphorus entering municipal wastewater systems each year. According to a release from the two Senators, advances in detergent formulation in recent decades have allowed many companies to produce phosphate-free automatic dish detergents that work as effectively as those containing phosphates. Thirteen states plus the District of Columbia, including Michigan and Ohio, have either passed legislation or have legislation pending that would ban phosphates in automatic dish detergent in 2010. A few states, including Washington, Massachusetts, and Maryland, have already adopted a restriction on phosphates in residential dish detergents.

Phosphorus is a nutrient essential to both plant and animal life, but aquatic plants require far less phosphorus than land-based organisms. Excess amounts of phosphorus in water-bodies accelerate a process known as eutrophication, or the rapid growth of algae, which causes dense algal blooms to occur. Algal blooms can become so dense that they block submerged aquatic vegetation’s access to light, which restricts their ability to photosynthesize and survive. As algae blooms and takes over the remaining light and kills submerged aquatic vegetation, bacteria consume the dead vegetation, which deprives the water-body of its remaining oxygen. Algal blooms also cause severe environmental damage by killing fish and other aquatic organisms and result in “dead zones” that favor the survival of invasive species such as carp over native species. Algal blooms also cause human health problems with the formation of blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can produce neurotoxins and hepatotoxins, which affect the liver. These toxins are deadly when ingested by humans.

On May 12, the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, Chaired by Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) held a field hearing in Port Huron, MI on The Impacts of Nutrients on Water Quality in the Great Lakes.

Full Committee Chairman, James Oberstar (D-MN) issued a statement saying, "While the focus of this hearing is on the impacts of nutrient contamination in the Great Lakes, the issue of widespread nutrient contamination is a national issue, and one that deserves continued attention." He cited two leading examples of widespread nutrient pollution are in the Chesapeake Bay and in the Mississippi River system. He also cited, "widespread outbreaks of harmful algal blooms have occurred throughout the Lakes, but most notably at Bear Lake, Michigan; Muskegon Lake, Michigan, Saginaw Bay, Michigan; and in Western Lake Erie." He said, "Today’s hearing should start the debate on how best to take on the national problem of nutrient pollution in the Great Lakes and elsewhere."

Representative Candice Miller (R-MI), a member of the committee also issued a statement. She is a cosponsor of H.R. 6017, introduced by Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) on May 9, to ameliorate the effects of harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes by reducing phosphorus inputs. Additional legislation, by Representative Brian Higgins (D - NY), H.R. 3331 to prohibit, as a banned hazardous substance, certain household dishwashing detergent containing phosphorus was introduced in August last year.

Access a release from the Senators (
click here). Access the Minnesota study referenced above (click here). Access legislative details for S. 3022 (click here). Access a background paper on the Port Huron field hearing (click here). Access a statement from Representative Oberstar (click here). Access a release from Representative Miller (click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 3331(click here). Access legislative details for H.R. 6017 (click here).

USGS Announces Major Beach Managers Information Program

May 19: The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) announced a new Great Lakes collaborative project aimed at improving information for beach managers when they are faced with deciding whether to close beaches to protect public health. The collaborative effort will draw on the expertise of USGS and other Federal, state and local agencies. The project has been funded through interagency implementation of the President's Ocean Action Plan for $700,000 in fiscal year 2008, and is expected to increase to over $1 million per year for each of the following 4 years. This research represents a broad commitment by USGS to the Plan.

John Haines, USGS Coastal and Marine Geology Program Coordinator said, "The strong existing partnerships and scientific expertise needed to address Great Lakes recreational water quality issues made this Great Lakes partnership a perfect candidate to address the Ocean Action Plan and its near term research priorities. This partnership will significantly improve our understanding of the factors related to beach closures, and will provide important new tools and information Great Lakes beach managers need for effective decision making."

Scientists will focus on improving water-quality forecasting by enhancing and expanding models that help beach managers decide if beach advisories or closures are necessary. They will continue work to identify processes that influence the occurrence and abundance of pathogens; identify and evaluate rapid methods of monitoring pathogens at beaches; and improve communication with beach managers. Dr. Shannon Briggs, Toxicologist at the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said, "Beach monitoring has raised significant and complex questions. Local beach managers are looking to scientists with expertise in diverse fields to gain a better understanding of their beaches. This effort will enhance our knowledge and improve communication between scientists and beach managers."

To strengthen the partnership, the Beach Health Initiative Steering Committee was formed consisting of key partners that will provide input and guidance on research direction for this project. This committee will continue the communication that began at the joint 2005 EPA, NOAA, USGS and Great Lakes Beach Association Beach Health Research Needs Workshop where beach managers provided input and feedback on the information and decision making tools they needed to assist them in protecting public health at their beaches.

Access a release from USGS (click here). Access more information on USGS Great Lakes Beaches research projects (click here).