Phosphorus Restriction Bill

In an exciting progression of events, NJ legislature is set to vote this Monday on a phosphorus control bill. S2098 sponsored by Senator James Holzapfel as it is coded in the legislature, would “[require] labeling of ingredients and [restricting] phosphorus in household cleansing products.” Additionally, the framework asserts that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “may adopt rules and regulations to require manufacturers of household cleansing products to submit certain information to the DEP, which would also be posted on the DEP website.” 

The bill would prohibit the sale of any cleaning product that does not meet labeling standards, identifying weights of certain ingredients classified by the Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Products that contain more than “trace concentrations” of phosphorus will be prohibited. These standards are set forth to bring transparency to ingredients that may be harmful or even toxic to the environment and, at times, human health as well.  Violations of these standards will result in fines. 

Environmental activists and concerned citizens are hopeful that this bill will usher in an era of increased awareness around the potentially harmful effects of excess phosphorus on the ecosystem and its consequential impacts on local economies. It additionally provides management solutions to curtail nutrient overflow into the area’s critical waterways. S2098 takes inspiration from other states leading the way on phosphorus crackdowns: “A number of states have taken action to restrict the amount of phosphorus in household cleaning products, and at least 17 states restrict phosphorus in dishwashing detergents,” the legislature states in its proposal. 

The science behind the harmful effect of phosphorus on the environment centers around a process known as eutrophication. When nitrogen and phosphorus get washed into waterways as runoff, they stimulate the rapid growth of algae and other plants. These algal blooms clog waterways and prevent adequate amounts of sunlight from penetrating the water’s surface, making it difficult for aquatic life to survive. These states of hyper-growth also lead to decreased dissolved oxygen levels in the water; this increased presence of plant and algae life causes competition for this resource between other forms of aquatic life. Once these conditions become hypoxic — lacking an oxygen supply — organisms typically die off.

The process of eutrophication. Source: Image source:

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), these algal blooms can be toxic to aquatic and human life. While phosphorus is, in fact, a naturally-occurring nutrient, it is only naturally present in relatively small amounts. Human input of phosphorus far exceeds this natural threshold and leads to substantial water quality problems.  The EPA states, “Since phosphorus generally occurs in small quantities in the natural environment, even small increases can negatively affect water quality and biological condition.” 

Another critical dimension to consider in the problem of excess phosphorus in the environment is its effect on local economies. The EPA identifies nutrient pollution as “one of America’s most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.” Especially in regions like Ocean County, where tourism and recreation make up large portions of the economy, algal blooms can spell disaster. Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB), as described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), “occur when colonies of microscopic algae grow out of control.” These events can be dangerous to humans, causing rare but serious health implications. As a result, water bodies commonly experience closures. These closures send ripples through local businesses and industries centered around water recreation.

While the recent attention to this issue is promising, bill S2098 is just the first step of the legislative process. It is more likely that the bill will get passed and become law with vocal support from constituents like you. It is critical that we use our voices to call upon our representatives to bring awareness to the critical threat nutrient pollution inflicts upon our region’s resources. We urge you to contact the following legislators, via phone or email, to voice your support for bill S2098: