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Florida Restricts Phosphate Fertilizers To Improve Water Quality

(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.

Sources: St. Petersburg Times, All Headline News, Palm Beach Post

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’�? 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.


4 Responses to “Florida Restricts Phosphate Fertilizers To Improve Water Quality”

  1. 1
    Bill Says:

    Anyone recommend an organic lawn care company in St. Petersburg?

  2. 2
    Aviva Glaser Says:

    Hi Bill-

    Check out Safety Source, Beyond Pesticides directory of least toxic service providers to find a company near you. http://www.beyondpesticides.org/infoservices/pcos/findapco.htm. We have a number of companies listed in Florida. Always remember to talk to the company first about how they will treat your lawn or take care of your pest control company and advocate for non- and least toxic alternatives to be used. If you know of any other local companies using least or non-toxic control methods, please let us know.


  3. 3
    Steph Says:

    Another way to get homeowners to care about and act on reducing pollution by using less herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer, and while there at it, conserve water by not needing as much, is to focus on plant and insect and wildlife diversity. A diverse landscape is preferable to a solid green lawn in many ways. I saw a long tailed skipper butterfly lay eggs on Desmodium (http://butterflies.heuristron.net/plants/desmodium.html ), one of my most hated weeds, and it became one of my favorite plants. That got me to thinking about the diversity in my yard. Instead of wasting a lot of time, effort, oil, and gas taking out a tree stump the hurricanes left me, I planted Passiflora suberosa by it and let it cover it up. The stump acts like a trellis for the vine, the vine hides the stump, and three butterflies use that vine as a host plant so I have lots more butterflies now. As I’ve added native plants (you don’t have to water native plants as much; they’re used to their home climate), and preserved little hidden corners for the weeds I’ve noticed that the butterflies use, and quit worrying about the weeds in my lawn, I’ve seen my dragonfly populations go up (dragonflies eat mosquitoes!), and oddly enough I have fewer fire ant hills. I’m still trying to figure out which bug is eating those. I toss on a gentle application of fertilizer a couple of times a year, less than half of the recommended spread rate, and I don’t spray for weeds or bugs. It’s great! I have more butterflies (the butterflies and other insects need a variety of plants, not just grass), more mockingbirds (they eat butterflies), and more time to spend outside enjoying my creatures instead of spending so much of it trying to completely replace their habitat with a grass only lawn. I also have more money, because I’m not spending on pesticides and herbicides I’ve discovered I’m happier not using.

  4. 4
    William Says:

    The real problem about our present fertilizer practices is all about whats really wrong with all our environmental management we humans think we can do better than “Mother Nature”. Until we understand what Nature needs we will alway be Closing the barn after the horses got out. Through microdosing of Beneficial microbes, use of naturally organic NPK’s with ocean harvested microneutrients and moisture managing humectant compounds we can still have beautiful environments and only apply what is needed at the time it’s needed. The practice of once a year or once every 60 days must become a thing of the past. The practice of microdosing is in use already and in our community as we speak. Check out http://www.Itsecomagic.com for some state of the art in ” Mother Nature Love” And about the ban that only will last for 4 months……..Any HEALTHY landscape environment WILL handle it without missing a beat. We over water, over feed. “If a little is good, so alot is better” This must stop.

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