USED AUTO FLUIDS
Uh Oh Oil
We’ve all heard that oil and water don’t mix. How about oil and the environment? Nope! Oil and other used automotive fluids (UAFs) are extremely damaging to fresh water habitats and the plants and animals that make their homes there. When oil from vehicles or other sources enters the waterways, it is very time, money, and energy intensive to clean up. Because oil does not dissolve in water, it can remain in and around waterways for a very long time. Oil in water is carried downstream from the source, affecting all habitats it encounters and may eventually make its way to the ocean.
Don’t Drip and Drive
Most oil pollution comes from leaky cars, not spills. Oil dripped on driveways, parking lots, and roads is carried by rain water down storm drains, which lead directly into local waterways, not a treatment facility. According to the Smithsonian Institution, 363 million gallons of oil make it into storm drains and waterways each year. That’s more than major oil spills, routine maintenance, offshore drilling, natural seeps, and oil burning combined! Click here to read more about this breakdown from the Smithsonian Institution.
Cars aren’t the only culprits for oil leaks. Drippy machinery can include lawn mowers, motorcycles, boats, tractors, ATVs, weed eaters… anything that holds oil! It’s important to check your equipment for leaks and fix the ones you find.
Oil & the Environment
Oil in waterways wreaks havoc for the environment and wildlife that inhabits it. Bird that ingest oil risk internal damage, disease, and death. Exposure to oil can cause birds to lose the ability to fly, keep warm, dive for food, or float on the water. Fish can take in oil through their gills, making it difficult to breathe. Adult fish may experience physical and physiological abnormalities and may have lowered reproductive success. Many aquatic animals suffer similar fates when dealing with oil pollution.
In addition to animals, plants and habitats are harmed as well. Aquatic plants are a major food source for many animal species. When plants become oily and contaminated, the animals that eat them are put at risk. It is also more difficult for plants to efficiently photosynthesize and develop healthily. Habitat damage from oil pollution is a long-term consequence. Used oil can contain heavy metals and other pollutants, which compromise the health of humans and wildlife. These contaminants can become trapped in and under sediments and have been detected in sediments over 30 years after a spill (according to U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service). It can also wash on shore, harming bank-dwelling plants and animals.
By the Numbers
- It only takes one pint of oil to cause an oil slick over an acre of water. Most cars hold enough motor oil to produce an eight acre oil slick. That means it would only take the oil from 4.5 cars to cover Pinnacle Lake at Table Rock State Park!
- One quart of oil can contaminate over 250,000 gallons of clean drinking water. That’s 4 million glasses of water!
- If all of the oil from American do-it-yourself oil changers was recycled, it would be enough motor oil for more than 50 million cars per year. That’s nearly 20% of all cars owned in the United States!
- 1 gallon of recycled motor oil provides the same 2.5 quarts of lubricating oil as 42 gallons of crude oil.
- According to the American Petroleum Institute, recycling just two gallons of used oil can generate enough electricity to run the average household for almost 24 hours.
- Americans spill 180 million gallons of used oil each year from unchecked machinery, like cars, boats, or lawnmowers. This is 16x the amount spilled by Exxon Valdez in Alaska!