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PostPosted: Thu May 07, 2009 9:35 pm 
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THE county’s Board of Legislators voted last week to ban all fertilizers containing phosphates after a state task force prompted concern about phosphates contributing to the growth of algae, which can lead to polluted waterways, including those that supply local drinking water.

Under the law, which was expected to be signed by County Executive Andrew J. Spano this week, lawn fertilizers containing phosphates will no longer be allowed in Westchester as of January 2011. Other portions of the law will take effect this year and will include restriction of the use of any fertilizer between April and December. The law would restrict the use of any fertilizer within 20 feet of a body of water unless there is a vegetative buffer at least 10 feet wide, county officials said.

“We did the right thing for the health of the people who live in Westchester and for the environment,” said Thomas J. Abinanti, who heads the legislators’ Committee on the Environment and Energy. Violations of the law will result in fines between $50 to $150, county officials said. The county’s Department of Consumer Protection will oversee the enforcement of the law.

The law provides some exceptions to the ban. They include new lawns — which typically need additional nutrients for grass to take root — and vegetable gardens, Mr. Abinanti said.

Mr. Spano, the sponsor of the bill, said it would help Westchester residents make smarter choices in maintaining healthy lawns and would ultimately lead to a healthier water supply.

“Restricting the use of phosphorus fertilizers is a major step in tackling a water pollution crisis that threatens more of our watershed areas every day,” he said.

The impetus for the law was a study by a state task force, released in 2000. It found that excess amounts of nitrates and phosphorus that run off into lakes, estuaries and streams can stimulate the growth of algae, which blocks sunlight and deprives the water of oxygen and thus can kill other forms of life.

Nitrate and phosphate pollution eventually makes its way into major bodies of water in and around Westchester, including the New York City watershed, which supplies water to more than 85 percent of Westchester residents, county officials said.

The bill had the support of all 17 board members, an achievement Mr. Abinanti described as rare, given the objections to the law raised by various groups that delayed its passage for almost two years. Landscapers and fertilizer manufacturers had argued against the measure, saying that zero-phosphate fertilizers cannot sustain turf growth and health.

Lawmakers said most Westchester lawns would be unaffected by changes in fertilization because soil in this region has sufficient phosphorus material.

Mr. Abinanti said his committee investigated concerns that arose, which in some cases led to revisions in the bill. For example, an earlier draft restricted use of fertilizer to between April and November, but was amended to between April and December. Landscapers say that further applications will improve lawn quality. Proponents of organic fertilizers argued for an exemption for fertilizers containing an organic form of phosphate, saying that such versions do not cause harm. But the exemption was not added. “We spent a lot time addressing the concerns,” Mr. Abinanti said. “But ultimately, we were convinced by the science that getting phosphates off the shelf was the right thing to do. Clean water is essential for everyone living here.”

The bill was passed as the county is facing the prospect of spending $235 million on upgrades to several sewage treatment plants on Long Island Sound. The upgrades are mandated by state and federal authorities in response to high levels of nitrogen dumped into the Sound every year, county officials said.

Mr. Abinanti said the regulation of fertilizer would dovetail with the efforts to improve the sewage treatment plants.

“We are spending all this money to clean up the Sound,” he said. “It makes no sense to then reverse that by allowing damage from the inappropriate use of fertilizers.”

The New York Times ... awnwe.html

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