By STEVE BROWN
OLYMPIA -- A proposal to prohibit the sale and use of fertilizers containing phosphorus includes language exempting agricultural practices.
Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, primary sponsor of House Bill 1489, said phosphorus is a proven link to toxic algae blooms in the state's waterways. The chemical is required for root development, but established lawns do not need it.
"We want to make the default position without phosphorus," he said. Consumers should have to "go out of their way" to get phosphorus-containing fertilizer, he said. Once roots are established, he said, "there's no performance difference in not having phosphorus."
In its language, the bill "does not apply if the fertilizer is being used to establish grass during a growing season, for agricultural or public horticultural purposes, or for adding phosphorus to soils with deficient phosphorus levels. Proof of deficient phosphorus levels must be shown through laboratory tests."
Representatives of several ag-related businesses lined up to testify against the bill during the House Environment Committee hearing.
Jim Fitzgerald, executive director of the Far West Agribusiness Association, said he opposes the bill and that phosphorus is a basic element of the food pyramid for plants.
Matt Johns, a sports turf manager, said, "Phosphorus is one of many tools I need for ongoing maintenance. Fish need oxygen; plants need phosphorus."
Larry Gilhuly, of the U.S. Golf Association, called phosphorus vital to his work with golf courses. "Turfgrass is a filter for phosphorus," he said. "It ties to the soil. The issue is impervious surfaces."
Wes McCart, of the Stevens County Farm Bureau, called a prohibition "bad public policy. ... Better is an educational campaign on how to use fertilizer."
Mary Moore, of the League of Women Voters, spoke in support of HB1489. "It is a priority of the league to protect the ecosystem," she said. "There are non-toxic, non-carcinogenic products available."