SEPA sticks to its guns on phosphate detergents

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency is continuing to urge consumers in the Loch Lomond area to avoid household detergent products likely to contain high levels of phosphate - although it has updated its advice to indicate that such products are usually modified tablet formulations of washing powders and dishwasher detergents.

SEPA's willingness to steer consumers away from certain products contrasts with the Environment Agency's policy - recently stated in connection with nappies - of avoiding any product recommendations on the grounds that it "interferes with consumer choice" (ENDS Report 365, pp 26-28 ).

Phosphorus (as phosphate) in sewage discharges threatens the ecology of the loch, SEPA says, by promoting algal blooms.

The warning came in a new leaflet 'Do a little, save the Loch' which has been reissued after the industry objected to the statement that phosphorus accounts for 30% of a typical washing powder (ENDS Report 356, pp 29-30 ).

The new leaflet concedes that manufacturers have reduced phosphate levels in recent years. But it advises consumers to avoid tablet formulations of laundry and dishwasher detergents which contain "a far higher concentration" of phosphate. It suggests powders or liquids are less harmful.

Andrew Williams, director general of the UK Cleaning Products Industry Association said the new version was "a lot more balanced" but still contained inaccuracies. Washing-up liquids, for example, have never contained phosphate, while some laundry tablets do not contain phosphate.

However, SEPA's advice may be the best available. Clear information on the phosphate content of detergent products is often missing from the packaging. An EU Regulation on the biodegradability of surfactants used in detergents, which comes into force in October, will require the phosphate content of detergents to be stated in bands ranging from less than 5% to over 30%.

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