Phosphates and the Bay
Why cut a big corporation a break?

Monday, May 5, 2008

WITH GOOD cause, Maryland and a growing number of other states have set deadlines for Proctor & Gamble and other manufacturers of automatic dishwasher detergents to rid their products of phosphates. But the soap industry, backed by its insider lobbyists in Annapolis, succeeded recently in persuading Maryland lawmakers to pass legislation that would extend the state's deadline by six months. Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) should veto the bill.

If you live in this region, each time you sprinkle Proctor & Gamble's Cascade detergent into your automatic dishwasher's dispenser cup you are contributing to the slow death of the Chesapeake Bay. Cascade -- the most popular but by no means the only offending automatic dishwasher detergent -- contains phosphates, a cleaning ingredient that is the proximate cause of the bay's "dead zones" -- clouds of algae that choke off sunlight, oxygen and life.

Spurred by legislative action in Washington state, whose ban on detergent-borne phosphates goes into effect this summer, the industry has said that it will market detergents without the ingredient starting in July 2010. Maryland set its deadline six months earlier, a deadline that Mr. O'Malley signed into law last year. Now the industry says that it would be inconvenienced by the Maryland deadline and prefers its own so it can coordinate the phase-in of a new product nationwide. Tough luck.

In fact, this is no more than special pleading by one major manufacturer, Proctor & Gamble, which controls well over half the detergent market through Cascade. A number of smaller companies, notably Colgate-Palmolive, have managed to make and market phosphate-free detergents. Why should Proctor & Gamble get to set Maryland's environmental agenda based on its own ease and convenience?

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