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Environmental Pollution
Environmental Pollution

Pollution of Auto Repair Shops

In many communities, auto repair shops represent the largest generators of hazardous waste among small businesses. These repair shops have potential to generate pollution in the vicinity area due to the following main activities:

  • Handling of chemicals may generate environmental pollution (auto repair pollution) though activities associated with usual repair work such as: the replacement of auto parts, cleaning and dismantling of engine and other car components, painting, and even through regular change of fluids (e.g., oil, transmission fluid). These repair activities introduce or have the potential to introduce contaminants (handled chemicals) in the environment through accidental spills or leaks, as well as through volatilization of the auto repair solvents during regular handling activities.
  • Waste-generating and management has also potential to pollute the environment since the generated waste may be spilled or can leak from storage containers. Additionally, improper waste management involving inappropriate auto repair pollution disposal may also account for environmental pollution at and around auto repair shops.  Examples of generated waste include the replaced auto fluids or the used cleaning solvents. These wastes pose a health threat to humans and environment, if they are spilled or not properly collected and disposed of.

The main categories of auto shop pollution and associated individual chemicals/pollutants include, but it is not limited, to:

Auto repair pollution solvents

Auto repair pollution solvents – these are organic solvents used in degreasing/cleaning operations. These are volatile compounds (they transition from liquid into gaseous phase under normal temperature and pressure). Examples of such organic solvents are:

  • Chlorinated solvents which are usually highly toxic in small amounts and highly resistant to environmental degradation (thus persisting in the environment); examples of chlorinated solvents used (mainly in cleaning and degreasing activities) in auto repair shops are:
  • Petroleum hydrocarbons (contain only carbon and hydrogen) are usually less toxic and more degradable in environment as compared to chlorinated solvents. Examples of the most commonly used petroleum solvents include:
    • Toluene
    • Xylene
  • Other organic solvents – may be less toxic and more degradable than both chlorinated and petroleum solvents and are preferred to those; the most common example is:
  • Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK)

Auto shop pollution fluids

Auto shop pollution fluids – include the used replaced engine oil, transmission and brake fluids. These fluids are oil based (organic chemicals such as motor oil or hydraulic oil composed of a mixture of hydrocarbons with elevated boiling point and known under the generic name of heavy petroleum distillates) and may contain a series of toxic heavy metals. The heavy metals usually leach in the auto fluids from a series of parts (such as welds, radiators or other engine components) during normal vehicle operation. Thus concrete contaminants associated with auto pollution fluids include:

  • Heavy oil distillates (e.g., motor oil, hydraulic fluid)
  • Blended oils and glycol solutions (constitute transmission and brake fluids)
  • Heavy metals – various heavy metals mayleach out in the environment with the engine fluid

Auto repair pollution antifreeze

Auto repair pollution antifreeze – is represented by the coolant fluids which contains:

  • Ethylene glycol (poisonous to animals and humans)
  • Pb may leach  and contaminate the coolant fluid

Auto repair pollution washers

Auto repair pollution washers – is generated through washing of cars and auto parts. The washing fluid (usually water) contains:

  • oils
  • heavy metals and other contaminants from cars;
  • detergents

Auto repair pollution refrigerants

Auto repair pollution refrigerants - refrigerants used in air conditioning systems consists mainly in:

  • CFC-12 (Freon 12) was used as refrigerant in cars before 1995, while it is currently banned since it was found to destroy the ozone layer;
  • HFC-134 more recently used – it does not affect the ozone layer but it is a greenhouse gas, which is why replacements are investigated

Auto shop pollution paints

Auto shop pollution paints – the auto paints contains a series of organic solvents, of which a commonly used is:

  • Methyl ethyl ketone (MEK) – this is many times the solvent of choice due to its high volatility and relative high solubility in water. If higher amounts accumulate in environment, MEK may travel over higher distances with groundwater due to its solubility. Thus, a possibility always exists for this contaminant to spread in the surrounding areas and possibly contaminate neighboring properties (usually within 1 mile of an auto repair shop)

Auto repair pollution rags

Auto repair pollution rags – their improper environmental disposal/storage may result in pollution of the surrounding environment. These rugs usually are contaminated with:

  • Oils (heavy distillates such as motor oil or hydraulic fluids)
  • Heavy metals (a suite of metals could leach from the engine parts)

Old replaced auto battery pollution

Old replaced auto battery pollution – split or broken batteries constitute an environment hazard and should be handled as hazardous waste. This is due to their content of:

  • Acid solutions
  • Pb

Auto repair pollution losses

Auto repair pollution losses – last, but not least spills and leaks may occur during the repair work or normal storage of cleaning solvents, paints, engine fluids, etc