Guest column: We all must exercise responsibility in disposal of household toxic waste

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 15, 2004

By Randy Tuchtenhagen

Managing materials that may potentially become toxic waste should be of concern to people, especially at a time when clean water and our water resources have become such a high priority. Each year privately owned automobiles, trucks, motorcycles and lawn mowers in the U.S. generate over 300 million gallons of used oil. Some of this oil ends up in storm sewers (draining to our lakes), or dumped on the ground to kill weeds or reduce dust on the road. When it rains, water lifts the oil and carries it to the nearest body of water (oil is lighter than water).

A gallon of used oil from a single oil change can ruin a million gallons of fresh water &045; a year’s supply for 50 people. The U.S. EPA estimates that only about ten percent of do-it yourself oil actually makes it to a re-use or recycling destination.

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Many local service businesses use used motor oil by burning it for heat. Care must be taken not to use oil contaminated with kerosene or gasoline that may cause an explosion. As markets fluctuate, some generators of used motor oil occasionally even get paid for their oil.

Either way, the oil gets used again (recycling) and saves a valuable resource somewhere.

Engine oil is a two part product, base oil and additives. Only the base oil gets re-refined. Waste oil uses the same basic refining and quality controls process as that of virgin crude oil. It takes one-third less energy to produce re-refined oil than that from crude.

Oil does not wear out, and if re-refined, it can be used over and over again with the replacement of proper additives. According to the U.S. EPA, if all used oil &045; improperly disposed of by do-it-yourselfers &045; were recycled, it could produce enough energy to power 360,000 homes each year or provide 96 million quarts of high-quality motor oil.

Check with your local service shop if they will take your used oil when you change the oil in your lawn mower, snow blower, motorcycle or car. Also the City of Albert Lea will accept used oil at the transfer station just north of the Country Club Golf Course.

Antifreeze is another common pollutant that can cause serious health problems for humans and animals. In 1996, the Minnesota legislature passed a law that bans dumping antifreeze down the drain or in the trash. Antifreeze is commonly made up of ethylene glycol, propylene glycol or another chemical that will transfer heat from a vehicle’s engine to the radiator. During this process, antifreeze may become contaminated with traces of fuel, metal particles, lead and grit.

Although not toxic to humans, it can be fatal if swallowed by children or pets. Remember the neighbor who used to rinse his radiator every fall in the driveway and let the antifreeze run into the street?

It all drained into the nearest lake, polluting the water filled with wildlife. Most automotive service businesses collect antifreeze in large drums for recycling.

If you have old used antifreeze (in small quantities) to get rid of, you can bring it to a Household Hazardous Waste collection when they start in April.

If you are a commercial business, contact our office to help find a recycling company that will pick up used antifreeze at your place of business.

Remember: We are responsible for the pollution and contamination of our land, our lakes and the air we breathe. Until action is taken on the part of each one of us to be responsible for all pollution, little change will occur.

(Randy Tuchtenhagen is the solid waste officer for

Freeborn County.)