ST. PAUL -- Phosphorus-containing fertilizers may be on their way out of Minnesota.
The House passed a bill 116-16 Wednesday that restricts the use of turf fertilizers that contain phosphorus on lawns -- none in fertilizer used in the seven-county metro area, no more than 3 percent in fertilizer applied elsewhere. It wouldn't affect agricultural, golf course or sod farm applications.
"There is a widening patchwork of regulations on phosphorus," said Rep. Peggy Leppik, the bill's sponsor. "If we do nothing, the statewide patchwork of restrictions will only become worse."
If Minnesota was to enact statewide restrictions, it would be the first state to do so, according to experts and lawmakers.
In recent years, 28 cities in the state have passed laws restricting the use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers on lawns. Many popular lawn fertilizers, such as Scott's Turf Builder, contain phosphorus.
The chemical occurs naturally in such things as yard-waste compost and is a necessary nutrient for plants. But researchers say most soils in this area of the country have enough phosphorus and excess phosphorus is washed into lakes when it rains.
Phosphorus stimulates the growth of blue-green algae. One pound of the nutrient can produce up to 500 pounds of algae bloom, taking oxygen away from fish and other aquatic plants and animals.
Phosphorus that ends up in the Mississippi River combines with other nutrients such as nitrogen and contributes to a so-called "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico that doesn't support aquatic life.
The biggest point of contention was an amendment successfully offered by Leppik that would allow fertilizer containing phosphorus to be used by a licensed, certified person. In the original bill, that provision only applied to golf courses.
Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, said expanding it to everyone wasn't fair to homeowners who couldn't afford to hire professionals to fertilize their lawns.
"If you can pay for it, you can get it," he said. "If you can't, you don't."
Leppik, R-Golden Valley, said if the law is passed, it would likely be enforced by complaint -- police wouldn't be out looking for people putting too much phosphorus on their lawns.
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