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updated: 2/12/2015 6:49 PM

Libertyville the latest Lake town to ban phosphorous in fertilizer

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Just in time for spring, Libertyville will become the latest Lake County community to ban the use of fertilizers containing phosphorous.

The new rule, which takes effect March 1, is intended to protect water quality and the environment in lakes, streams and ponds, which can become choked with algae and affect aquatic life.

The change comes at the recommendation last fall of the Sustain Libertyville commission.

"There have been a number of groups that have gone ahead and done that, not only in Illinois but across the country," said Mike Adam, senior biologist with the Lake County Health Department.

Libertyville is the 11th Lake County community to ban the use of phosphorous containing fertilizers. Vernon Hills banned phosphorous in 2009. Others include Antioch, Lindenhurst, Round Lake Park and Round Lake Beach.

The Barrington Area Council of Governments and states of Wisconsin and Minnesota also have bans, Adam said.

Phosphorous has been removed from many fertilizers, he said. Such bans are "one piece of the puzzle" in what is becoming a national issue, he said.

"The fertilizer industry has kind of responded and taken out phosphorous from a lot of the lawn fertilizers already," Adam said. "In many cases, you don't need phosphorous for a healthy lawn."

Libertyville's ordinance prohibits homeowners, renters and commercial businesses from applying fertilizer containing phosphorous to lawn or turf areas, impervious surfaces, drainage areas or buffer zones.

Exceptions include areas determined by soil tests to be lacking in phosphorous, flower beds, vegetable gardens, newly seeded or sodded lawns and crop farms. Violators can be fined $100 to $1,000 per offense.

Excessive phosphorous can lead to overgrowth of algae and other nuisance vegetation in lakes and rivers, according to Ryan Kelly, director of the Fox Lake Northwest Regional Water Reclamation facility.

In an article in the most recent village newsletter, Kelly said the main sources of phosphorous are stormwater and waste water. Rain washes fertilizer from lawns and paved surfaces, for example. Dishwashing detergents, ground-up food from garbage disposals and municipal tap water can contribute to excess phosphorous in waste water.

In the Chain 'O Lakes, the average concentration of phosphorous is about 45 parts per billion, which leads to algae blooms and low water clarity at certain times of the year. Lakes rich in phosphorous tend to have low water clarity and odor problems, he added. At 30 parts per billion, the quality would be dramatically better, according to Kelly.

Lake County does not have an ordinance that bans use of fertilizers containing phosphorous but operates under state law, according to Public Works Director Peter Kolb.

In 2010, Illinois prohibited lawn care services from applying fertilizers containing phosphorous to residential lawns and limited the amount of phosphorous in cleaning agents, including detergents.

Kolb said changes in phosphorous discharge limits have resulted in the need for costly upgrades at waste treatment plants.