Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

New York settles fertilizer case with Home Depot, Lowe’s

May 27, 2016

As published in the Times Union on May 18, 2016.

The state attorney general’s office has reached settlements with the national chains Home Depot and Lowe’s Home Centers over alleged violations of a state law designed to reduce water pollution caused by excess phosphorus running off lawns.

The 2010 state Nutrient Runoff Law requires stores to display lawn fertilizers containing phosphorous separately from those that are phosphorus-free and to post signs notifying consumers about the legal restrictions on using lawn fertilizers that contain the chemical.

Runoff of phosphorus from sources like lawn fertilizer can end up contributing to algae blooms in water sources — accelerated growth that can make lakes and ponds hostile to marine life and treacherous for swimmers and other recreational users.

A 2014 investigation by the attorney general’s office that found 19 of 21 Home Depot stores visited and 16 of 18 Lowe’s locations had one or more alleged violations of the law. The investigation visited two Home Depot locations in Albany County, and three Lowe’s stores in Albany County plus a Saratoga County location.

The two chains have roughly 170 stores in New York between them. The state reached a settlement with Wal-Mart a year ago over similar allegations.

“Clean water is not only essential for New Yorkers’ health, but it also underpins our state’s economy,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement.

Under the settlements, the two chains will provide the required signage and display the two classes of fertilizer separately. To assist future enforcement, Home Depot will compile and disclose past and future data on in-state fertilizer sales. Home Depot will pay penalties of $78,000 and Lowe’s will pay $52,000.

In addition to paying a fine, Wal-Mart chose to halt sales of phosphorus-containing fertilizers intended for use on lawn or other non-agricultural turf at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in New York. Online sales were also suspended.

The state Nutrient Runoff Law sets up protocols for the sale of any fertilizer containing more than 0.67 percent phosphate.