By Christopher Le Coq
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union will virtually ban phosphates in dishwasher and laundry soap to curb the pollution of rivers, lakes and seas by algae from 2013, EU lawmakers decided on Wednesday.
Phosphates help soften calcium-rich hard water but they can lead to blooms of algae, which starve fish of oxygen. The compound has had a particularly serious effect on parts of the Danube river and Baltic Sea, environmentalists say.
The legislation, expected to be rubber-stamped by EU member states in the coming months, will reduce phosphates in dishwasher soap to half a gram per dose from 2013 and even less in washing powder from 2017.
Environmental campaigners said the rules would come too late to save some EU waters.
"(The legislation) is paving the way for the most cost-effective solution to reduce the algal blooms in our rivers, lakes and seas," said Sergey Moroz from environmental group WWF.
"Unfortunately, by setting excessive deadlines, the regulation lacks the sense of urgency needed to finally bring life back to the Danube and the dead areas of the Baltic or the Black Sea."
EU states including Germany, France, Britain and Italy have already banned or limited phosphate use in laundry soap, which along with dishwasher detergent is the third biggest source of phosphate discharge after farming and sewage.
France will impose a ban for dishwasher detergent by 2012, while Sweden and Finland are considering similar action.
Lawmakers also agreed to set a 2015 deadline to consider further cuts in consumer chemicals but removed a proposal to act on phosphate in industrial detergents.
(Editing by Ben Harding)