Restrictions on Turf Fertilizers Containing Phosphorus


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Restrictions on Turf Fertilizers Containing Phosphorus

For more information, contact Brent Perry at (509) 995-2876

On April 15, 2011, Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law ESHB 1489 which, with some exceptions, prohibits the display and retail sale of turf fertilizers that contain phosphorus, and the use of such fertilizers on turf. The following questions and answers will hopefully give you a better understanding of how the law affects you as a consumer or retailer.


General Questions About the Law (questions apply to both sale and use):

Q: What is the purpose of this law?

A: Certain water bodies in the state of Washington are known to contain high levels of phosphorus. High phosphorus levels in fresh water are known to contribute to algae bloom and other problems. This law is an attempt to reduce the amount of phosphorus entering water bodies via surface runoff and storm drains.

Q:What is considered "turf" under the law?

A: The law defines "turf" as "land, including residential property, commercial property, and publicly owned land, which is planted in closely mowed, managed turf." This definition includes not only home, condo and apartment complex lawns, but all lawns that are closely mowed and maintained on commercial and public properties such as parks, golf courses, cemeteries, schools, business centers, etc.

Q: What types of land are not covered by the law?

A: The law does not apply to land that is in pasture, grass grown for sod (turf farms), residential vegetable or flower gardens, or any other land used for agricultural production.

Q: Are all fertilizers prohibited on turf?

A: No, only turf fertilizers that contain phosphorus are prohibited (with some exceptions).

Q: What is a "turf fertilizer" under the law?

A: "Turf fertilizer" is defined as a "commercial fertilizer that is labeled for use on turf." The word "labeled" has important implications for the restrictions in this law. If a fertilizer does not have directions on the label for use on turf, the law does not apply to that particular fertilizer. Further discussion about labeling can be found in the questions and answers that follow.

Q: What if a fertilizer has the word "Turf" in the name, but there are no apparent directions for use on turf on the label, is this still considered a "turf fertilizer"?

A: Yes, such a product would still be considered "labeled for use on turf."

Q: How do I know if a turf fertilizer contains phosphorus?

A: Every commercial fertilizer registered in the state of Washington will have both a "grade" and a "guaranteed analysis" on the label. You can determine whether a fertilizer contains phosphorus by looking at either the grade or the guaranteed analysis on the product label.

The grade of a fertilizer is a series of three numbers, such as 13-2-13, that will be prominently displayed on the label. The first number always indicates the percentage of nitrogen, the second always indicates the percentage of phosphorus (expressed as available phosphoric acid) and the third always indicates the percentage of potassium (soluble potash) contained in the product. Therefore, if the second number in the series is anything other than zero (0) then the product contains phosphorus. Some examples of fertilizer grades are as follows:

13-2-13: This product contains 13% Nitrogen, 2% phosphorus, and 13% potassium.

29-0-3: This product contains 29% Nitrogen, 0% phosphorus, and 3% potassium.

25-5-5: This product contains 25% Nitrogen, 5% phosphorus, and 5% potassium.

20-10-20: This product contains 20% Nitrogen, 10% phosphorus, and 20% potassium.

Note that of the four grades listed above, the product with the grade 29-0-3 contains no phosphorus and therefore, the law does not apply to this product. Whether the law applies to the other products, which all contain phosphorus, depends on the directions for use on the label.

The guaranteed analysis of a fertilizer is the minimum percentage of plant nutrients that are claimed by the manufacturer to be in the product. Similar to the grade, the guaranteed analysis, which can be found on the product label, will show you how much nitrogen, phosphorus (expressed as "available phosphoric acid") and potassium are in the product. Using the product with the grade 13-2-13, for example, the guaranteed analysis would look something like this:

Total nitrogen (N) ....................13%
Available phosphoric acid ........2%
Soluble potash (K2O) ..............13%

By looking at the guaranteed analysis of the 13-2-13 product, above, you know that the product contains phosphorus since it contains 2% "available phosphoric acid." For a product such as 29-0-3, that does not contain phosphorus, the "available phosphoric acid" would be missing from the guaranteed analysis, which would look something like this:

Total nitrogen (N) ..............29%
Soluble potash (K2O) ........3%

Q: Are turf fertilizers derived from organic sources of phosphorus exempt from the law?

A: No, the source of phosphorus does not matter. There are no sources of phosphorus that exempt a fertilizer product from the law.

Q: When does the law go into effect?

A: The law became effective on January 1, 2013

Q: How will WSDA enforce the new law?

A: WSDA fertilizer compliance staff will investigate complaints and will conduct routine inspections on various commercial and retail establishments.

Q: What penalties can be assessed for violating this law?

A: WSDA has the authority to assess civil penalties up to seven thousand, five hundred dollars ($7,500) per violation of the law or rule. Each violation is a separate and distinct offense. WSDA also has the authority to issue stop-sale, stop-use and withdrawal from distribution orders.

Q: Who can I call if I have questions or need further information?

A:    Brent Perry, Fertilizer Compliance, Spokane: (509) 533-2689
 


Questions About the Display and Sale of Turf Fertilizers Containing Phosphorus

Q: If I am displaying at my retail store a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus (only allowed when there are other uses on the label besides established turf), do I need proof from the purchaser that they intend to use the product for one of the other labeled uses?

A: No, if a retail store is displaying turf fertilizers containing phosphorus because the label has other uses than on established lawns, the retailer does not have to verify that the product is being purchased for those other uses.

Q: I have some inventory of turf fertilizers containing phosphorus that only have directions for use on established turf (there are no directions for use to start or repair a lawn). Since I received these products into inventory prior to the law going into effect, can I display these products for sale?

A: You can only display these products if you can show proof that they were in stock and physically at the retail location before January 1, 2012 (a year prior to implementation of the law). Even though you cannot display these products, if they were brought into your store after January 1, 2012, these products can still be sold if the purchaser indicates either: a soil test has been conducted within the last 36 months and the test indicates the soil is deficient in plant-available phosphorus, or the intended use is for establishing grass or repairing damaged grass during the growing season in which the grass is established.

As with the previous question, the retailer does not need to verify that the product is being purchased for the other uses.


Summary

Here are three simple questions to help determine whether the display and/or sale of a fertilizer are subject to restrictions under the new law that became effective on January 1, 2013:
  1. Does the fertilizer meet the definition of “turf fertilizer”? If the answer is no, it is not subject to the restrictions. If the answer is yes, go to question number 2.
  2. Is the fertilizer labeled as containing phosphorus? If the answer is no, it is not subject to the restrictions. If the answer is yes, go to question number 3.
  3. Does the label have directions for any of the following uses?
    1.  Establishment of grass or repair of damaged grass during the growing season in which the grass is established.
    2.  Pasture
    3.  Interior house plants
    4.  Flower and vegetable gardens
    5.  Grass grown for sod
    6.  Agricultural production
    7.  Silvicultural production
    8.  Use on soil that is deficient in plant available phosphorus as determined by a soil test within the last 36 months.

If you answered yes to any of the above uses, the product is not subject to the restrictions.If the label does not have directions for any of the uses listed in 3., above, the product may not be displayed at retail. It may not be sold unless the purchaser indicates that (1) a soil test has been conducted within the last 36 months and the test indicates that the soil is deficient in plant available phosphorus, or (2) the intended use is for establishing grass or repairing damaged grass during the growing season in which the grass is established.


Questions About the Use of Turf Fertilizers Containing Phosphorus

Q: I'm a homeowner and fertilize my own lawn every year, does this law apply to me?

A: Yes, the law applies to all persons who apply turf fertilizers containing phosphorus to turf. This includes your own lawn.

Q: Are lawn care companies exempt from this law?

A: No, the law applies to all persons (including companies) who apply turf fertilizers containing phosphorus to turf.

Q: What if I find a store is displaying and selling turf fertilizers containing phosphorus, can I then apply the product to my established lawn?

A: No, unless you have a soil sample analysis taken within the past 36 months that indicates the soil of your established lawn is deficient in phosphorus, you cannot apply the turf fertilizer containing phosphorus to your established lawn. Note that a store may display and sell a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus for other purposes (as directed on the label) than for use on turf.

Q: If I wish to purchase a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus because there are other uses on the label besides established turf, do I need to show proof to the store that I intend to use the product for one of the other labeled uses?

A: No, the law does not require that you verify that you are purchasing the product for one or more of those other uses.

Q: What if I am starting a new lawn from seed or installing sod, can I then use a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus?

A: Yes, the law specifically exempts the use of turf fertilizers containing phosphorus for the purpose of: "establishing grass or repairing damaged grass, using either seeds or sod, during the growing season which the grass is established."

Q: What if there are areas or patches of my established lawn that need to be reseeded, can I then use a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus?

A: Yes, the law specifically exempts the use of turf fertilizers containing phosphorus for the purpose of: "establishing grass or repairing damaged grass, using either seeds or sod, during the growing season which the grass is established."

Q: What if I have a soil test on my established lawn and the report shows that the soil is deficient in plant-available phosphorus, can I then use a turf fertilizer that contains phosphorus?

A: Yes, the law allows for such use when the soil test has been conducted within the last 36 months.


Summary

Here is one simple question to help determine whether your lawn fertilizer can be used under the new law that became effective on January 1, 2013:

Is your lawn fertilizer labeled as containing phosphorus? If the answer is no, you may apply the fertilizer without restriction. If the answer is yes, you may not use the fertilizer on your lawn except in the following situations:

  1. It is used to establish grass (new seeding or sod).,
  2. It is used to repair damaged grass during the growing season in which the grass is established.
  3. It is used to grow grass for sod (turf farms).
  4. It is used on pasture land.
  5. It is used in situations where a soil test indicates the soil is deficient in phosphorus. The soil test must have occurred within three years of the application.