(Beyond Pesticides, April 3, 2007) Responding to concerns about the state’s polluted waterways, Florida will become the first in the nation to enact a statewide restriction on the content of fertilizers. If passed, fertilizers sold in Florida must be no- or low-phosphate. Phosphorus, along with nitrogen, is a pollutant that contributes to algae blooms, fish kills, and dead zones, all of which alter already fragile ecosystems. The high phosphate levels are due in large part to Americans’ affinity for heavily-fertilized, brilliantly green lawns, golf courses, and recreational areas.
The proposed rule was designed in response to a number of local fertilizer restrictions in the state; rather than deal with the confusion of regulating a wide variety of local standards, the Department of Agriculture’s rule will clarify and standardize the movement to reduce pollution from lawn fertilizers. According to Richard Budell, director of water resources protection for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, “One of the things we’re trying to prevent is a patchwork of local ordinances that would be almost impossible to enforce.”
Local regulations include a similar rule that has been in place in Wellington since 2000, one in Crystal River than allows only slow-release fertilizers, and a restriction in Sanibel that allows homeowners only six applications of low-phosphate fertilizer per year. Martin and Sarasota counties have also been working to reduce nutrient loading on area waterways.
The new phosphate rule will also require industry to reformulate some fertilizers for sale in the state. While industry groups originally supported the idea of a statewide standard, they are bristling over the new rules, which will take effect in May or June, barring serious objections. Mary Hartney, president of the Florida Fertilizer and Agrichemical Association, complained, “The proposed rule as written is problematic. It puts a disproportionate share of the burden on the industry. We certainly don’t think we’re the whole problem.” She added, “We don’t love it, but we can live with it. This rule gives the homeowner the most flexibility while also protecting the environment.”
Florida officials, meanwhile, hope the proposal serves as an example to other states as they try to reduce pollution in their rivers and lakes.”If we can do it,” said Carol Wehle, executive director of the South Florida Water Management District,”then everybody can do it.”
Reducing phosphorus-rich fertilizers can have the added benefit of reducing the levels of pesticides that runoff into lakes and streams as well. Fertilizers are often paired with pesticides in weed-and-feed products, the use of which will fall under the fertilizer restrictions. Local bans of such products have been upheld in federal courts in the past, despite state preemption laws aimed at limiting local authority. However, it is unclear how the Florida rule will influence pesticide use and if it will preempt the more stringent local laws.
TAKE ACTION: Beyond Pesticides advocates healthy, organic lawn care practices to eliminate pollution and health risks from fertilizers and pesticides. For tips on organic lawn care, visit our Lawns and Landscapes page, where you can find our “Read Your ”˜Weeds’ï¿½? factsheet and other tips for organizing in your region. To let us know that you want change in your region, sign the National Declaration on the Use of Toxic Lawn Pesticides.