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Walmart settles charges it violated New York water law

Phosphorus fig2Walmart Stores will pay $98,000 in a settlement over alleged violations of a 2010 New York state law designed to reduce water pollution caused by excess phosphorus that runs off lawns into state waters.

The Nutrient Runoff Law requires stores to display phosphorous-containing lawn fertilizers separately from those that are phosphorus-free, and post signs notifying consumers about the legal restrictions on using phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer.

An investigation by New York Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau found that 90 percent of Walmart stores – 16 of 18 – inspected in New York displayed phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers without the separation or signage required by the law.

“In this case, the law requires retailers to help consumers avoid lawn fertilizers that can harm the public and our environment,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.

The settlement agreement requires Walmart to comply with the runoff law and pay $98,000 in penalties.

The company decided to comply with the law by not selling phosphorus-containing fertilizers for use on lawn or non-agricultural turf at Walmart stores and Sam’s Club stores in the state, Schneiderman said. In addition, Walmart decided not to sell these fertilizers over the Internet to consumers in New York.

Phosphorus is an element added to fertilizer to promote plant growth. While the soils in New York State typically contain enough phosphorus to support healthy lawns, homeowners and landscapers often apply phosphorus-containing fertilizers to lawns, and the excess phosphorus can then wash into lakes, rivers, streams, and drinking water reservoirs.

The use of phosphorus-containing fertilizers can double the amount of phosphorus washing off lawns, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. After it gets into waterways, excess phosphorus causes algae blooms – which can produce green slime on water bodies and an offensive odor and taste.

In addition, algae blooms can reduce oxygen in the water that fish and other aquatic organisms need. In some cases, these blooms produce toxins harmful to humans.

In 2014, DEC documented 92 harmful algae blooms in bodies of water across New York, many of which had toxins at levels high enough to cause serious health impacts including nausea, vomiting, skin, eye, and throat irritation and allergic reactions or breathing problems. 

Phosphorus levels exceed state water quality standards in about 100 waters of the state, according to DEC.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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