State lawmakers eye fertilizer ban to save LI water

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To help protect waters around Long Island, some state lawmakers are pushing for limits on some common fertilizers.

The proposal would ban water-soluble, high-nitrogen lawn fertilizers, which carry nitrogen into the water and damage coastal ecosystems. They can also seep into the ground and contaminate drinking water.

State Sen. Kemp Hannon (R-Nassau County) and Assemblyman Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) introduced the bill.

"We don't have to sacrifice the quality of our coastal waters to have a healthy lawn," Englebright says. "By using slow-release, low-nitrogen fertilizers, Long Islanders can keep more nutrients on their lawns and less in our harbors and bays, where they feed algae blooms that cause fish kills."

Michael Lamberti says his family-run garden center has been selling organic fertilizers for 25 years. They contain about a third as much nitrogen as chemical fertilizers, and he says they're better for grass and the environment and cost about the same.

"If you see how often you have to fertilize with a chemical fertilizer, and how much you do with an organic one, there's not that much difference," he says. "Because organics last longer."

If the bill becomes law, they will be the only kind of fertilizer legally available in the state next year.

Critics say people will just spend more money to put down extra organic fertilizer to get as much nitrogen into their lawns, leading to the same amount of runoff.

"They'll be adding more nitrogen to the soil than we had before," says John Gaylardo, of Atlantic Nurseries.

Patti Wood, founder of the environmental group Grassroots Environmental Education, disagrees.

"People are extremely concerned about water quality on Long Island," she says. "This is one of the answers to protecting that."

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