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Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law

An image of a blue green algae bloom on a lake in New York State. The water in the lake looks like yellowish green swirls of paint.
A harmful blue-green algae bloom
impacts recreation on a lake in New York State

Requirements of the Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law (Chapter 205 of the laws of 2010) apply to lawn fertilizer and dishwasher detergent. The requirements apply to:

  • homeowners applying fertilizer themselves
  • landscapers and lawn care professionals
  • pesticide applicators
  • retailers, distributors and manufacturers of lawn fertilizers
  • retailers and manufacturers of automatic dishwasher detergents.

The Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law will improve water quality in New York and enhance recreational opportunities. It will also reduce costs to local governments and private entities required to remove phosphorus from stormwater and wastewater.

Key Requirements of the Law

Lawn Fertilizer*:

  • Do NOT use lawn fertilizer that contains phosphorus unless (1) you are establishing a new lawn, or (2) a soil test shows that the lawn does not have enough phosphorus.
  • Do NOT apply any lawn fertilizer on impervious surfaces, such as sidewalks or driveways. If any fertilizer is spilled onto impervious surfaces, you must contain the spill to prevent runoff into drains or waterways.
  • Do NOT apply any lawn fertilizer within 20 feet of any surface water, including with a sprayer, unless (1) there is a buffer at least 10 feet wide of planted or naturally occurring vegetation, such as shrubs, trees and plants between the area receiving fertilizer and the water, or (2) fertilizer is applied at least three feet from surface water by a device with a spreader guard, deflector shield or drop spreader.
  • Do NOT apply any lawn fertilizer between December 1st and April 1st.
  • Retailers are required to display phosphorus containing fertilizers separately from non-phosphorus fertilizers and to post an educational sign where the phosphorus fertilizers are displayed. A PDF of an educational sign that retailers may print and use is available on the Important Links section of the right-hand column of this page.

*These provisions DO NOT impact agricultural fertilizer or fertilizer for trees, shrubs or gardens. The phosphorus fertilizer restrictions do apply to fertilizer/pesticide combination products (sometimes called "weed and feeds") when these products contain over 0.67% phosphorus. The law does also apply to organic phosphorus fertilizer (such as bone meal), but does not apply to compost.

  • For an owner, owner's agent, or occupant of a household, the penalties are: issuance of a written warning with educational materials for a first violation; a fine of up to $100 for a second violation; and fines up to $250 for subsequent violations.
  • The penalties for all others are: a fine up to $500 for a first of violation; and fines up to $1000 for subsequent offenses.
Tips for Compliance:
  • Choosing the Right Fertilizer:
    Fertilizer labels have three bold numbers, e.g. 22-0-15. The number in the middle is the percentage of phosphorus in the product. Use of products with 0.67 in the middle or lower is allowed. Products with a number higher than 0.67 may only be used if a new lawn is being established or a soil test indicates it is necessary. This includes natural fertilizer products, such as bone meal.
  • Getting a Soil Test:
    DEC recommends that soil testing be done by a laboratory that routinely performs soil nutrient analysis testing. A soil lab will interpret the test results and will provide the information to you. Labs can be found through a web search or through the local Cornell Cooperative Extension office. Please see "Offsite Links" at the right. Tests generally cost in the $10 to $20 range (in 2015). Soil may also be tested using a home test kit, but these tests tend to be less accurate and do not come with fertilizer recommendations. The test kits should be matched to a color guide to determine if there is "surplus, sufficient, adequate or deficient" phosphorus in the soil sample. A local Cornell Cooperative Extension office can also be contacted to understand soil test results.

Dishwasher Detergent:

  • The sale of newly stocked, phosphorus-containing dishwasher detergents for household use and commercial use is prohibited in New York State.
  • There is no change to the phosphorus limits for detergents used to clean dairy equipment or food processing equipment.
An image of a blue-green algae bloom in a lake in New York State. The image shows green, pea soup colored water washing up on a beach.
A harmful blue-green algae bloom on
a lake beach in New York State

Why is this law important?

  • Phosphorus impacts our water. Phosphorus going into the State's water has been linked to: reductions in oxygen in waterbodies necessary for fish to breathe; algae that turn water bodies green; and algae and algae by-products that degrade drinking water.
  • Detergents and lawn fertilizer can have unnecessary phosphorus. New York eliminated phosphorus in hand dish soap and laundry detergents in the 1970s but exempted dishwasher detergent, which was not very common at the time. Fertilizers contain phosphorus to help spur plant growth. However, in many areas of the State, sufficient phosphorus to foster lawn growth is naturally occurring or exists due to many years of over fertilization. While automatic dishwasher detergent and lawn fertilizer are only two sources of phosphorus, they are sources that are easy and inexpensive to control.
    • Before the law, dishwasher detergents contained up to 9% phosphorus and could account for 9% to 34% of total phosphorus in municipal wastewater.
    • Some lawn fertilizers contain up to 3% phosphorus and can account for up to 50% of the soluble phosphorus in stormwater runoff from lawn areas.
  • Local governments can save money at no cost to consumers. This law will help local governments reduce the amount of phosphorus getting into their local waterbodies, and meet water quality standards in areas where there is excessive phosphorus. Over 100 waterbodies in New York are impaired due to phosphorus including: the East of Hudson New York City Watershed; Lake Champlain; Onondaga Lake; Cayuga Lake; parts of Lake Ontario; and the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
    • Removing phosphorus at a WWTP costs approximately $1 to $20 per pound. By reducing levels of phosphorus entering the environment, communities can save through the use of less chemical treatment and the generation of less sludge.
    • Preventing phosphorus from getting into stormwater is cost effective compared to building phosphorus control systems, which can be very costly to municipalities (local taxpayers).

How will this new State law impact local laws that reduce phosphorus?

  • New York State's law will not impact existing local laws, including laws adopted in Westchester, Nassau, Suffolk and Chautauqua Counties and the Village of Greenwood Lake.
  • Other local governments may enact more stringent standards for the application of fertilizer for lawn and non-agricultural turf upon demonstration to the Department that more stringent standards are necessary to address local water quality conditions.

More about Dishwasher Detergent and Nutrient Runoff Law:

  • Text of Lawn Fertilizer Law - This is the new version of the Nutrient Runoff Law, Article 17, Title 21.
  • FAQ For Lawn Fertilizer - Phosphorus impacts our water. It enters the environment in many ways. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), defective septic systems, agricultural runoff, fertilizer, manure, decomposing leaves, and urban/suburban runoff all contribute phosphorus to the environment. Phosphorus going into the State's water has been linked to reductions in oxygen in waterbodies necessary for fish to breathe,algae that turn water bodies green, and algae and algae by-products that degrade drinking water.