Automotive Products: From the Garage to the Indoor Environment
There are several hazards associated with vehicles and their products. Some of the hazards are associated with the actual chemicals associated with the vehicles. These include:
Sanding and Painting
Gasoline, a clear liquid volatile organic compound (VOC), is used as a fuel for internal combustion engines and as an organic solvent. It is usually found in garages because of its many uses. Gasoline can be one of the most dangerous products found around the home because it is both flammable and toxic. Because of these hazards, you should avoid storing gasoline and buy only the amount you need for the next month.
However, if you must keep gasoline on hand, be sure it is stored in a proper container because gasoline is flammable. When filling this container, be sure to always set the container on the ground and do not fill it up completely in order to leave room for the vapors to expand. Another reason to buy only the amount you need is because gasoline can go stale after 6 months and stale gas can make it difficult or impossible to start the engine. This is one reason you should never keep gas in your lawn mower at the end of a mowing season. The other reason is that old gas in a lawn mower can damage the carburetor in a few months. To prevent these problems, continue mowing until all the gas is used up. That way you can begin a new mowing season with fresh gasoline.
If you do have gasoline in a garage, be sure that it is stored in a proper container that it is in a secure, well-ventilated area, and that it is away from hot water heaters (because of their pilot light) or any other source of heat, sparks, or flame. Store it away from where children or pets could get to it.
Antifreeze keeps your radiator fluid from freezing when it is very cold and keeps your car from overheating when it is very hot outside. However, antifreeze is a highly toxic chemical so you should avoid storing it at home. Many types of antifreeze have ethylene glycol as their main ingredient. Ethylene glycol has a very sweet taste that attracts pets. If you have a leak and you see green or pink fluid on the pavement under your car, clean it up immediately! (If you do have a puddle of antifreeze in your driveway from a radiator leak, do not hose it away since that water will flow into the street and down a storm drain that usually flows directly into streams and rivers without treatment. Instead, sprinkle an absorbent like kitty litter, corn meal, or saw dust on it, allow it to dry, sweep it up and properly dispose of it.)
Many family pets have been poisoned to death by licking puddles of antifreeze found on driveways. Some of the other health problems caused by ethylene glycol include:
To avoid these problems, have your antifreeze changed at a garage that recycles it. You should have your antifreeze changed regularly to prevent corrosion in your radiator. When changing your antifreeze, request one that contains propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol since it is less toxic to humans and animals.
This is used as a lubricant and helps power some tools like weed eaters. Used motor oil has been associated with some cancers so proper protection should be used if you are changing the motor oil yourself. Across the United States, about 1.2 billion gallons of used motor oil are generated each year. This used motor oil can be a problem if not handled correctly. Because it contains heavy metals and other toxic substances like lead, it is considered a hazardous waste. Dumping used oil or not cleaning up oil leaking out of your car sends oil and its contaminants into ground and surface waters where they can enter the food chain. Consider what happens if used motor oil is not properly disposed:
One quart of oil will foul the taste of 250,000 gallons of water
One pint of used oil can create an acre-size slick on surface water
Oil never wears out; it just gets dirty. Since it takes about 67 gallons of crude oil just to produce one gallon of refined oil, the best things to do are recycle your used motor oil and repair any oil leaks. For example, it just takes two gallons of used motor oil to produce one gallon of re-refined oil. By either having your oil changed professionally at a place that recycles used motor oil or by taking your used motor oil (from lawn motors, for example) to a place that will accept it, you are helping to preserve a non-renewable resource. Also consider using re-refined recycled oil yourself to support this effort.
In addition to being used to produce re-refined oil, used oil can be environmentally safe to burn as fuel in most industrial and commercial boilers that have been equipped with the proper pollution control equipment including fueling asphalt, cement, and lime kilns.
Auto part degreasers are usually composed of solvents that evaporate quickly. The fumes are often toxic and very flammable so one should never smoke while using degreasers. Degreasers should ideally be used outside or in well-ventilated areas with open windows and a fan. Avoid products that contain methylene chloride and never use gasoline to clean car parts. Both of these chemicals have been known to cause cancer. In addition, the vapors from gasoline could contribute to air pollution. Kerosene or diesel fuel may be adequate for your degreasing needs (less flammable and less dangerous to store than gas and doesn't evaporate as fast as gas), but try using even less toxic alternatives like water-based detergents or citrus-based degreasers.
Never hose down oil and grease spills. To absorb grease and oil spills on concrete surfaces, sprinkle cornmeal, sawdust, or kitty-litter; allow to sit for several hours, then sweep into a plastic bag and place in the trash.
To prevent grease from getting on your hands, wear gloves to keep your hands clean. This is becoming standard practice in some professional garages. To wash greasy hands, first rub some baby oil on them and then use citrus-based hand cleaners or soap and water.
Asbestos-lined brakes are sold in stores as replacement parts for many older cars and are installed on some new car models. Though the makers of 38 car and light-truck models no longer use asbestos in their brake liners, many models still do. As a result, many auto mechanics are being exposed to dangerous levels of cancer-causing asbestos and are not being informed of the risk. In recent tests of gas stations and brake-repair shops in six states and the District of Columbia, they found that 21 of the 31 samples collected contained dangerous levels of asbestos.1 If you are going to work on car brakes, be sure that you are wearing protective equipment. It is preferable there be a low-exhaust to suck up any asbestos fibers that may be released by the brake lining.
Be careful not to spill the fluid that is inside the battery. It is sulfuric acid and is extremely corrosive, which means it can cause burns and eat away at your skin. Batteries also contain lead so when buying a new battery, turn in your old one so it can be recycled.
Air-conditioners in cars used to use Freon, but this was discontinued since Freon contains a chemical called CFC, which can deplete the earth's protective layer of ozone in the stratosphere.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a list of acceptable substitutes for Freon in automotive air-conditioners. These acceptable substitutes can be found at their web site: www.epa.gov/spdpublc/title6/snap/lists/mvacs.html. Unacceptable substitutes are also listed at: www.epa.gov/spdpublc/title6/snap/lists/refrunac.html
It is important to know what kind of refrigerant alternative is being used to recharge your air-conditioner. For example, some of the refrigerants are contaminated with flammable gases such as propane, butane, and isobutane. This increases the chance of a car exploding in an accident according to tests that have been conducted. Even though the EPA prohibits the use of HC-12a in automobiles, an estimated five million cars may accidentally have that refrigerant in their air-conditioning system.
Another problem with refrigerants is that different automotive centers may recharge air-conditioners using different types of refrigerants. As a result, industry experts estimate that 3 percent to 15 percent of car air-conditioners are contaminated with combinations of different refrigerants as well as with flammable gases. You probably have a 10 percent chance that the refrigerant in your car's air-conditioner will be contaminated the next time you get it recharged since few consumers or even automotive professionals even know about this problem. Since most people are unaware, that percentage is expected to increase. However there is equipment available that can analyze air-conditioning refrigerants for contaminants. Before you have your air-conditioner recharged, make sure that your car care professionals are aware of this problem and are analyzing the refrigerant first.2
Sanding and Painting
If you are going to be sanding and painting cars, the safest way is to have special ventilation equipment that can suck up what is being sanded at the source. There are also special spray booths for painting cars so that the vapors from the paint do not go throughout the shop. If you do not have this special ventilation or paint spray booths, then you should wear proper personal protective equipment.
Carbon monoxide is formed from the incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels such as gasoline. High levels of deadly carbon monoxide from car exhaust may be found in garages and auto shops if cars are run without adequate ventilation. This is especially a problem in the winter when garage or shop doors may be closed to keep it warm inside. In auto shops, a local exhaust ventilation system should be present that hooks right onto the tailpipe so the exhaust from running cars does not get into the shop. If this is not present, the bay doors should be open with fans running to provide plenty of ventilation.
Mechanics exposed to asbestos in brakes. Cincinnati Enquirer. November 17, 2000:A25.
Autobody Pro. The EPA's ban on R12 production gave rise to a new generation of refrigerants. Now, blended versions of alternative refrigerants are wreaking havoc on vehicle A/C systems and shop equipment. September 4, 2000: www.autobodypro.com/safety/articles/0031.htm.