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Home Depot, Lowe’s agree to settle charges of violations of New York water quality laws

0712hudson1Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Centers are settling charges on alleged violations of a 2010 New York state law designed to reduce water pollution caused by phosphorus running off lawns into state waters.

New York’s Nutrient Runoff Law requires stores to display lawn fertilizers containing phosphorous separately from those that are phosphorus-free, as well as to post signs that notify consumers about the legal restrictions on using phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizer.

The settlements are based on the results of a 2014 investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office that found 90 percent of Home Depot stores – 19 of 21 – and Lowe’s stores – 16 of 18 – in New York inspected by the office had one or more alleged violations of the law, either displaying phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers without the required signage or failing to display phosphorus-containing lawn fertilizers separately from phosphorus-free fertilizers or both.

The agency reached a settlement with Wal-Mart Stores in May 2015 over alleged violations of the state’s Nutrient Runoff Law.

“Clean water is not only essential for New Yorkers’ health, but it also underpins our state’s economy,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said. “The state’s Nutrient Runoff Law requires retailers to help consumers protect clean water by avoiding improper use of lawn fertilizers.”

There are 100 Home Depot and 70 Lowe’s stores located in New York.  

The investigation found that Lowe’s had taken steps to comply with the Nutrient Runoff Law when it first went into effect and some Lowe’s stores complied or partially complied with the law’s requirements.

The settlements require Home Depot and Lowe’s to bring their stores in New York into compliance with the Nutrient Runoff Law.

Home Depot also will pay $78,000 and Lowe’s will pay $52,000 in penalties to New York state for the alleged violations.

Phosphorus is an element added to fertilizer to promote plant growth.

While the soils in New York State usually 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 fertilizers containing phosphorous can double the amount of the nutrient that washes off lawns, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. In the water, excess phosphorus causes rapid algae growth or algae blooms, which can produce green slime on water bodies, as well as offensive odor and taste.

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

In 2015, DEC documented 126 harmful algae blooms in water bodies in the state, 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 difficulties.

Phosphorus levels exceed state water quality standards in more than 100 water bodies in the state – including reservoirs in the New York City drinking water watershed, Lake Champlain, Onondaga Lake, Chautauqua Lake, Greenwood Lake, and parts of Lake Ontario. DEC has identified curbing excess phosphorus-containing fertilizer use on lawns as a key element of its plans to improve the health of many of these waters.

Under New York law, phosphorus-containing fertilizer may only be applied to lawn or non-agricultural turf when:

  • A soil test indicates that additional phosphorus is needed for growth of that lawn or non-agricultural turf.
  • The fertilizer is used for newly established lawn or non-agricultural turf during the first growing season.

A retailer who sells phosphorous-containing fertilizers without complying with these requirements may pay penalties up to $500 for the first violation and up to $1,000 for each additional violation.

Copyright 2016, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist


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