GUALO RAI Saipan — The Division of Environmental Quality will strengthen the law meant to ban detergents with phosphates in the Northern Mariana Islands. This following concerns raised by the Saipan Chamber of Commerce about the chemical’s harmful effects to the environment which include fish kill and the destruction of coral reefs.

Frank  M. Rabauliman DEQ director told the Journal that the divison’s legal counsel Kate Fuller and biologist Peter Houk are reviewing Public Law  12-66 to come up with proposed changes. In its present form they say the statute is “not enforceable.”

Rabauliman noted that while the intent of P.L. 12-66 is to ban detergents with phosphates the statute has numerous provisions that however exclude those used in hospitals and health care facilities; agricultural production; laboratories; and households.

“Everything is exempted. According to our biologist this law is not enforceable ” Rabauliman said.

Charles V. Cepeda general manager of Pacific Trading Corp. and president of the chamber said the chamber brought the matter to DEQ’s attention in March. He said “The chamber is concerned with businesses bringing in these products.   We tend to see these exempted products out on the retail outlets. There is a need for some exclusions but some are the main cause of the damage to our environment.”

Cepeda said most of these products are from Asian countries including the Philippines. Max Kretzers resident manager for Dickerson & Quinn in Saipan explained that detergents from the U.S. don’t have phosphates because of strict federal regulations. These products also have information on the label stating that they are phosphate-free.

The problem though according to Kretzers is that it’s difficult to determine whether these detergents have phosphates. “There is no English language on the label ” he explained. He also noted problems about counterfeit products from China that are now finding their way into local outlets.

Kretzers said implementing a testing system could help address the issue. “I would assume that (the government) could make tests available ” he said.

The chamber has formed a subcommittee spearheading the business group’s efforts to ban phosphates in the NMI. The group is composed of representatives from major distributors in the NMI — Cosmos Distributing Co. Ltd. D&Q Saipan Coca-Cola Beverage Co. (Micronesia) Inc. Pacific Trading Corp. Marianas Pacific Distributor Inc. Herman’s Bakery and Triple J Wholesale. All are chamber members.

P.L. 12-66 the Phosphate Detergent Act was enacted by Gov. Pedro P. Tenorio on Oct. 19 2001. It was introduced in the 12th Legislature by Rep. Rosiky F. Camacho Saipan house representative on April 25 2000. In signing the law Tenorio asked DEQ to work with the Legislature for the needed amendments.

“Although this bill is signed into law ” Tenorio said in his transmittal message to the legislature “DEQ would like to offer modification for further improvement of the bill. Therefore by copy of this letter I am urging … DEQ to meet and work with the legislators to address all appropriate changes to the legislation.” The matter has not moved since.

Rabauliman who came on board as director in February said his office had expressed concern about the way Camacho’s legislation was written. “It became law even before DEQ’s changes could be incorporated into the bill ” he said.

Amending the law would require a legislative process of having a bill introduced reviewed in committee passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. This takes an average of about six months depending on whether lawmakers would prioritize the measure.

Phosphates increase the growth of algae and duckweed which use great amounts of oxygen and prevent sunlight from entering the water. This results in eutrophication a form of water pollution caused by excessive plant nutrients.

Large quantities of algae lead to oxygen depletion and resulting fish kills. It can also cause beaches and shorelines to be fouled by masses of rotting stinking algae.

According to the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. laundromats on Saipan are linked to CUC’s sewerlines that lead to treatment facilities in Sadog Tasi which is north of the island; and Aguingan to the south. Following treatment the wastewater is disposed of at sea. MBJ