Thursday, February 17, 2011

Used crankcase oil threatens Silver Creek in Eastern Washington

By Cathy Cochrane, Communications Manager, Eastern Regional Office, Spokane

“YUK!” was the word that first came to mind when I saw these photos yesterday of a thick ribbon of used crankcase oil slithering out of a culvert in Garfield and into the water of Silver Creek.

This is what happened, all because someone ignored the rule of Only Rain Down the Drain and chose to dump gallons of used crankcase oil down a drain somewhere in Garfield’s stormdrain system.

The Palouse Conservation District was conducting water sampling on Monday near Third Street in Garfield when they saw the goop oozing into Silver Creek, lethally coating grasses and generating a sinister sheen in a long stretch of water downstream. Town of Garfield personnel quickly placed hay bales and sheets of tin to build a catch basin at the storm drain outflow to stop any further migration to the creek. An Ecology spill response team placed absorbent boom in the area to soak up the oil and minimize damage to the environment. No source has been found, but based on the amount of used oil recovered—about 5 gallons—investigators believe that someone dumped used oil from a large diesel engine down the storm drain. (For more information, read the news release.)

Dumping oil down storm drains or onto roads is illegal

Many people think that whatever goes down a storm drain passes through a treatment plant where the water will be purified. What they don't realize is that all those harmful materials are flowing straight into waterways. Dumping used motor oil on the ground, roads, and into storm drains is illegal.

People who have to breathe the dust from unpaved roads may think it’s OK to apply used oil to the road, to keep the dust down. But used motor oil is not the same as the commercial oil applied for dust control. Used motor oil is full of toxins, including heavy metals and many cancer-causing chemicals. What if a child is exposed to that now-contaminated road dust? What if pets pick it up on their paws and bring it into the house? What if livestock ingest it? And that’s to say nothing of the very real certainty that the used oil will eventually make its way to nearby creeks and streams.

Oil and fuel poison water

All oils and fuels are environmental poisons. The longer oils and fuels are in the water, the more damage they can cause. A single quart of motor oil can potentially contaminate 100,000 gallons of water and spread over an acre of surface on the water.

There is no charge for dropping off used oil at any transfer station, including those in Whitman County. So why do people still make the mistake of dumping oil out into a drain or onto a road? Maybe they don’t know any better. I’m hoping that if you know of people who do this, you can tell them there’s an easy, free, and responsible way to get rid of their waste: Take it to the nearest transfer station.

Get more information about reporting spills on Ecology's how to report an environmental problem web page.

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