Michigan County Bans Phosphorus Fertilizers
Grand Haven (Michigan) Tribune
Published December 14, 2006
Ottawa County, Mich. residents will have to closely watch which fertilizer they put on their lawns after the county's Board of Commissioners voted to ban the use of phosphorus fertilizers for residential use.
The full crowd at the board meeting represented both sides of the issue, with each side urging commissioners to see its point of view.
County commissioners Robert Rinck of Coopersville and Edward Berghorst of Zeeland Township opposed the measure to ban phosphorus fertilizer.
Berghorst said he is concerned about how the ordinance will affect businesses that sell lawn care supplies, and said some residents have told him they plan to go to other counties to purchase their fertilizer, and will probably purchase most of their lawn care items from those same businesses.
Berghorst said there is a need for more education, and he asked the board how it plans to enforce the law.
Muskegon County also has banned phosphorus fertilizers with a new law effective in January.
Ottawa County Health Department officials and local conservationists, including representatives from Clean-up Our River Environment (C.O.R.E.) and the Alliance for the Great Lakes, were on hand at Monday's meeting to give commissioners their request to ban phosphorus fertilizers. They cited the link between phosphorus and toxic algae blooms, and the already high levels of phosphorus in county soils.
The county's Environmental Health Director, Adam London, told the board phosphorus is "junk food for algae." He said algae can be toxic, contributes to respiratory and nervous system problems, and lead to problems with the liver.
London said a ban on phosphorus fertilizers is "good stewardship for our environment."
Kaye Nedderman of Grand Haven, who represented C.O.R.E. and has presented to the county board numerous times on the issue, said one pound of phosphorus can stimulate the growth of 500 pounds of algae.
Throughout the months of heated debate on the subject, commissioners Dennis Swartout and Jane Ruiter, who represent the Tri-Cities, have repeatedly echoed support for the ban.
Ruiter told the board, "This is one small step we can take in the right direction." She also suggested the need for education on the subject.
On the other side of the debate, members from the agricultural and business community urged the county board to wait and see what the state Legislature does with a phosphorus ban before enacting a countywide ban. They asked for more and better research, saying they do not see how a ban on residential phosphorus use will have any significant impact on water quality.
Ken DeBruyn from DeBruyn Seed in Zeeland presented his research, and said the prime source of phosphorus in runoff is from construction.
"I don't believe banning phosphorus is going to have any significant affect," he said.
Tom Smith, executive director of the Michigan Turfgrass Coalition and member of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's phosphorus work group, traveled from Mason to present the county board with his findings. He said there is "still tremendous research that needs to be done" and a statewide ban would be more effective.
"Water is our livelihood and it's critical to those businesses," Smith said. "On behalf of the 'green' industry, we certainly understand this is an issue."
The county's new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2008, states that "no person shall apply any lawn fertilizer within Ottawa County that is labeled as containing more than 0-percent phosphorus," except on newly established turf or lawns in their first growing season and soils that are tested to be phosphorus deficient.
Representatives from the Michigan State University Extension office said they can conduct a phosphorus test for about $10.
The law also makes an exception for vegetable and flower gardens, trees, shrubs, and yard waste composts.
The county board's Planning and Policy Committee voted 4-1 last month to recommend approval of the ban.
Clerks at the City Farmer in Grand Haven said most lawn fertilizers contain 4-percent phosphorus. Newly seeded lawns are recommended to be fertilized with 10-percent phosphorus fertilizer, while farmers often use 12-percent phosphorus on their crops, they added.
As awareness for the issue grows, so does the demand for phosphorus-free fertilizer, they said. Clerk Mike Vanhook said the first year The City Farmer carried the product, they sold only about 10 bags. This year, he said the store has sold "pallets and pallets" of it.