Phophorous ‘could be banned from detergents’

Sweden's government wants to ban the use of phosphorous in detergents, which are adding to the problem of algae blooms in the Baltic Sea.

“We can’t afford any leakages into the Baltic,” environment minister Lena Sommestad told a seminar at the Almedal political week in Visby on Tuesday.

Swedish water treatment works today remove most phosphorous from waste water, but Sommestad said this is still not enough. She said she would ask Sweden’s chemical industry inspectorate, KemI, to look into the possibilities of a general ban on phosphorous in detergens.

“If we can get the other countries around the Baltic, which don’t have the same level of water treatment that we do, on our side, then a phosphorous ban could become even more significant,” she said.

Sommestad advised consumers to buy liquid detergent until a ban on phosphorous comes into effect, as only powder detergents contain the harmful chemicals. She said that people should be particularly careful in their summer houses if these are not connected to municipal water treatment plants.

The excess of fertilizer in the Baltic Sea is a hot topic at the Visby event. During last summer’s Almedalen week, the sea off Gotland was covered in a soupy layer of blue-green algae. This year’s first major outbreak was noticed at the weekend north of Gotland.

The Centre Party has said that phosphorous and nitrogen should be regulated in an emissions trading scheme, similar to that in place for greenhouse gases. The party says for example that a Swedish landowner could halt timber production and sell emission rights to a water treatment plant in Poland.

“This is not something that can be brought in overnight,” said Claes Västersteg, environmental spokesman for the Centre Party.

Sommestad said she thought the Centre’s idea was interesting, although added that it needed further investigation and was a long-term measure.

Left Party leader Lars Ohly and Liberal leader Lars Leijonborg have both proposed a charge on commercially produced fertilizer. This was rejected by Västersteg, whose party is rooted in the Swedish farming industry. He said that the proposal would make Swedish farming less competitive.

The environment minister, however, said that environmental damage had to be paid for.

“You need penalties, but I have to discuss this with [finance minister] Pär Nuder first.”