Dishwasher detergents banned from store shelves in Massachusetts more than two years ago are still being sold in nine out of 10 retail stores in the Boston area, a leading consumer group in the state found.

The cleansers were banned under a local environmental law in 2008 because they contain phosphates, which can leak into waterways and deprive fish of oxygen. The regulation applies to household products with phosphorus, and specifically carried an exemption for dishwasher liquids, but that expired July 1.

"Stores had two and a half years to prepare for the ban, but somehow couldn't find the time to scrutinize their shelves to remove the now-illegal products," said Edgar Dworsky, founder of ConsumerWorld.org, a Boston-based education website. "This decision wasn't sprung on them over the weekend."

Dworsky noted that most of the household items to which the phosphate-free regulation applies, and which his group examined, were compliant. Nonetheless, he said it took him less than 10 minutes to identify that many stores were still carrying the banned products.
"My hope is that once it's pointed out to them, they will scramble to take these things off shelves. We're letting the public in Massachusetts know they need to read the label so they're not contributing to the environmental problem."

Consumer World surveyed the shelves of 10 supermarkets, drugstores, and big box retailers, and was able to purchase banned products in nine of them.

Retailers found to be selling some banned dishwasher detergents included Stop&Shop (Finish Quantum Powerballs), Rite Aid (Electrasol Powder, Finish gelpacs), Walgreen's (Cascade with Dawn, Finish gelpacs), Target (Cascade Complete), Shaw's (Cascade Pure Essentials Action Pacs), CVS (Finish Powerball Tabs), Kmart (American Fare Dishwasher Detergent), and Foodmaster (Cascade Complete with Bleach, Finish gelpacs).

The one store found to carry none of the illegal products was Market Basket.

Under the new law, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health can seize phosphate-laced products and impose fines of $1,000 to $5,000 a day against offending retailers.

The state joins 15 others with restrictions on the phosphate content of household products: Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.

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