Pollution Probe and the Phosphate Problem

One of the early concerns of Canadian environmentalists was the high level of phosphates in laundry detergents. This, of course, led to massive algal blooms in the Great Lakes. While the International Joint Commission recommended in 1965 that the governments of Canada and the United States should resolve the issue immediately, in the ensuing four years little had changed. As such, Pollution Probe took it upon itself to break the deadlock. During the 1969 Christmas holiday a team of Probe volunteers analyzed the phosphate content of  a wide range of laundry detergents. On 8 February 1970 Brian Kelly and Peter Middleton appeared on the popular CBC television program, Weekend, to announce their findings. (Watch it here.) The plan was to arm consumers with the information they needed to make an eco-friendly decision at the marketplace. The list appeared in magazines, newspapers, and even on store shelves throughout the country.

According to Jennifer Read, Probe "helped to concentrate public concern and kept the issue before the government while the parliamentary committee considered the legislation." Consumer pressure, meanwhile, led the manufacturers to lower the phosphate content of their products.