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Algae on Salamonie Reservoir in 2012 is evidence of the overuse of phosphorous in agriculture and lawn care.

State’s chemical reactions

At a recent online event by the Hoosier Environmental Council, residents had a valuable opportunity to learn about numerous proposals lawmakers are pushing in the General Assembly this session that could affect Indiana’s environment. The advocacy organization pointed out serious concerns with a vast majority of the proposed legislation, but two companion bills addressing phosphorus pollution served as a bright spot amidst the environmental darkness.

Senate Bill 546, authored by Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso, requires lawn care service providers that use and retailers that sell fertilizers containing phosphorus to provide their customers with information about concerns regarding the overuse of the chemical. House Bill 1202, authored by Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, goes one step further by also requiring that retailers and lawn care service companies offer customers fertilizers that don’t contain phosphorus.

Excessive runoff of phosphorus-laden fertilizers used in lawn care and agriculture is the culprit behind the contamination of several Indiana lakes. High levels of phosphorus produce the toxic blue-green algae blooms that cause skin rashes, eye irritation and stomachaches as well as tingling in the fingers and toes. The cyanobacteria algae produce nerve toxins that can easily kill pets and other animals, including fish and water fowl. Contact with contaminated water is especially dangerous for young children, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.

It was a toxic algae infestation that led to the closure of Grand Lake St. Marys in Ohio a few years ago. That state lost millions of dollars in tourism revenue because of the pollution.

Toxic algae were also linked to the death of two dogs that went for a swim in Salamonie Reservoir in July.

The problem has increased over the last couple of years. Last summer, seven state-managed lakes – including Salamonie and Sand Lake at Chain O’ Lakes State Park – were placed on The Indiana Department of Natural Resources blue-green algae warning list.

Northeast Indiana lakes are a significant tourist draw and recreational asset. Tourist dollars and recreational opportunities are at risk unless state leaders act to reduce phosphorus pollution.