Within weeks of the press conference Congress again began holding hearings,which resulted in the report entitled "Phosphates in Detergents: GovernmentAction and Public Confusion" (Congressional Report HR 92-918. March 15,1972). (The following discussion comes from that report.) EPA Director RusselTrain testified that the press statement was based on a concern for NTA and thecaustic nonphosphate detergents, implying that all nonphosphate detergents werecaustic. After getting the EPA and the Surgeon General to admit that only asmall percentage of the nonphosphate detergents were caustic, and most were nodangerous to human health than phosphate detergents, several congressmen accusedthem of creating the false issue of making the public choose between pollutingthe waters versus injuring children. The Industry brought in Daniel Okun of theUniversity of North Carolina to testify that only 15% of the U.S. populationcontributes to eutrophication of lakes and rivers. But further testimonyrevealed that 32 of 50 states had eutrophication problems, and tertiarytreatment for phosphorus removal from wastewater would cost up to $12 billionfor the next 20 years. Congress also noted the success story of LakeWashington's reversal of eutrophication after Seattle's municipal wastewater hadbeen totally diverted by 1967 (see Edmondson 1972). All three major detergentcompanies favored federal regulation of 8.7% phosphorus limit if it wouldpreempt states and municipalities from passing more restrictive laws - theystill feared a patchwork of local laws. In conclusion, the report recommended:
In the end, local needs for immediate action to curtail eutrophicationcoupled with scientific, judicial, and popular support resulted in the patchworkof legislation the Industry had feared. By 1985, jurisdictions which had enactedphosphate bans included New York, Michigan, Indiana, Vermont, Minnesota, DadeCounty, Florida, Akron, Ohio, and Chicago Illinois (footnote 257 in Fleming etal. 1986). Typical are state statutes which limit phosphate content for certaintypes of detergents and in certain areas. For example in Pennsylvania, the Waterand Sewage Phosphate Detergent Act of 1989 and amended in 1992 (PA ST 35 P.S. §§722.1 - 722.3) affects "all counties partially or wholly within theSusquehanna River Watershed or in the Lake Erie Watershed." This Actprohibits the manufacture, sale or distribution of any cleaning agentscontaining any phosphate, except contained incidentally during manufacture. Butexcluded from this ban are cleaning agents used in dairy, beverage and foodprocessing equipment, in hospitals and health care facilities, in agriculturalproduction, by industries for metal cleaning, in biological and chemicalresearch facilities, and those used in the household for cleaning windows,sinks, counters, stoves, tubs and other food preparation surfaces and plumbingfixtures. Dishwashing detergents are allowed to be up to 8.7% phosphorus byweight.
They added that phosphorus limitation was limited to just a few areas andbans would have little effect - it would be better to build tertiary wastewatertreatment facilities (Congressional Report HR 92-918 March 15, 1972). If thesepronouncements had not confused the public enough, on the very next day(September 16, 1971) the published a Food and DrugAdministration ("FDA") study that some phosphate detergents were ashazardous to human health as some nonphosphate detergents. But that did not seemto phase the Industry. Lever Brothers soon ran the advertisement "Are youconcerned about detergents? The Surgeon General of the U.S. says 'My advice tothe housewife is to use phosphate detergents.'" (Congressional Report HR92-918 March 15, 1972).
Nonphosphate detergents, which had once accounted for about 14% of themarket was reduced to 3-4% by 1988 because of the lack of adequate substitutes(ReVelle and ReVelle 1988). The driving need (and public pressure) fornonphosphate detergents also lessened when more tertiary treatment facilitiesfor domestic wastewater came on line. Continued enforcement of laws regulatingphosphate concentrations in laundry detergents, however, probably reflect thefacts that it still costs money to remove phosphorus from wastewater, and that asignificant percentage of households use individual septic tanks whicheventually leach into streams and lakes.
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