Finally, Ukraine has joined the club of countries which strictly prohibit the domestic use of phosphates. The United States, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Canada did so earlier. Ukraine has seen a lively debate on this issue over the past two years, ending recently with the Cabinet’s decision to introduce a bill prohibiting the production, import, and sale of phosphate-containing synthetic detergents and household chemicals in Ukraine. The prohibition will take effect in stages, with total ban coming into force by 2021. By the way, the EU countries will have to permanently abandon phosphate use by January 1, 2017.
According to the environmental analysts, phosphates are a major source of drinking water contamination. The Dnipro River suffers most. The country’s principal waterway got nearly three tons of phosphates over 2011. The JSC Kyivvodokanal (Kyiv Waterworks) states the contamination levels have dropped slightly lately, but they still exceed the permitted maximum by the factor of two or three.
“While the maximum permissible concentration of phosphate in urban wastewater is 8 milligrams per cubic decimeter, our treatment plant in Bortnychi receives wastewater containing over 24 milligrams per cubic decimeter. Under such conditions, we find it hard to comply with water treatment requirements, especially given the almost complete lack of modernized treatment technology. It should be noted that the plant, designed 50 years ago, had no provision for removal of nutrients from wastewater. Currently, only 2 out of 14 aerotanks operate according to the modern technology and are able to remove phosphorus compounds from wastewater,” the company press service commented.
The excessive concentration of phosphates has increased the population of blue-green algae in rivers, producing so-called “water bloom.” As explained by Olena Miskun, an expert with the National Ecological Center of Ukraine, it makes it progressively harder for living organisms to survive in contaminated waters, and eventually, the riverine life will begin to die off. While residue from the Bortnychi Wastewater Treatment Plant was used as a fertilizer before, nobody does it anymore. It is difficult to imagine what kind of water we drink, if it has exceedingly high, deadly levels of phosphates in it.
“Phosphates are harmful for human health, especially that of children, as these substances are potent allergens,” Miskun added. “They also influence the reproductive system. We therefore welcome the Cabinet’s decision. We can only hope that cheap counterfeit detergents, for example made in China, will not appear on our market. Therefore, consumers should carefully read what is written on the box, because even if one sees the phosphate-free detergent as too expensive, it is about one’s health, not mere money.”
Meanwhile, the stores are increasingly offering phosphate-free detergents. They usually cost twice as much. Experts believe that with expanding range and increasing competition, the environment-friendly products will become cheaper. Environmentalists also advise us to adopt attitudes to the issue prevalent in other countries, where the public prefers natural detergents and totally refuses to use substances such as chlorine or antibacterial soap.