Storm water is an abnormal amount of surface water due to a heavy rain or snows. Any excess water not absorbed into the ground flows across yards and fields, across impervious surfaces like rooftops, driveways, and roads, to drainage ditches and storm systems. As it flows along the surface it picks up pollutants along the way such as fertilizers, dog waste, and motor oils. Eventually the polluted runoff flows into creeks, lakes, and rivers which poisons aquatic life and wreaks havoc on the environment.
Unknown to some people simple every day activities can cause harm to the environment as well. One example is washing your car. How can that pollute the environment? As cars travel down the road a lot of harmful things stick to it besides dirt, such as arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, zinc, oil, and grease. Where do these come from? Tires contain zinc, sulfur, and carbon black (basically soot) for that nice black color. As we drive, our tires wear and what doesn’t end up on the roadside or into the air remains on the tire. Brake pads contain copper since it is a great conductor of heat. For these reasons, you typically wash the wheels last because your wash cloth or sponge gets all black and grimy. The other substances are often attached to the dirt or come off with the bits of grease and oil that you clean off. Because of these substances, state and federal regulators consider wash water from car washing a hazardous, industrial waste when produced in large quantities, such as commercial car washing facilities.
In addition to the substances we wash off, the products we use to get our cars clean, such as soaps and degreasers, aren’t always the most gentle to the environment. Some soap brands contain phosphate, which can lead to nutrient enrichment and algal blooms. Degreasers often contain strong solvents and alkali compounds that can impact the pH of receiving waters and/or soil.
If you live on a road that has curbs then you probably have a concrete driveway. As the car is being rinsed that waste water containing all those pollutants flows down your driveway into the road where it flows along the curb to the nearest catch basin. It then enters the storm system and eventually outlets into a natural waterway. That outlet, or outfalls as they are known, serves many storm lines so multiple people washing cars at the same time multiplies the amount of harmful pollutants exiting the system. To prevent that from happening simply wash the car in the yard instead. The waste water will be absorbed into the ground and the soils will neutralize the soap, grease, and oils naturally. The other alternative is to use a car wash where the waste water collected and sent to treatment plants for processing.
Pollution can also be prevented by proper household disposal practices and recycling. If you change your own oil in your car do not dispose of the old oil by dumping it on the ground or into ditches or catch basins. This is illegal dumping and is in violation of federal law. One quart of oil can polluted 250,000 gallons of clean water so used motor oils must be disposed of properly. SummitReworks has a Hazardous Household Waste Facility drop-off at 1201 Graham Road in Stow that will accept the used oil and the Township holds an annual Recycle Day the first Saturday in October where used motor oils can be dropped off for disposal.
For more information on pollution prevention and other environmentally safe practices or to view upcoming events you can participate in please view the Summit Soil & Water Conservation District website. Summit Soil and Water Conservation District website link.