Agency: Keep Car Wash Suds
by John Trumbo
Car wash water is a no-no in city drains.
But the Washington Department of Ecology says people still can wash their vehicles if they make sure the dirty suds and oily residues don't go into city stormwater systems.
Car washing has become a concern following recently issued rules from Ecology about stormwater permits for cities and counties.
"There is no ban on residential car washing," said Jay Manning director of Ecology.
Manning said the suburban homeowner's weekend ritual of washing the family car is OK if people are aware of the problem of polluted runoff.
"Most people want to do the right thing for the environment. If they have the facts, they will act on them to solve a problem," Manning said in a statement.
Public education about proper car washing is better than issuing tickets, fines or other penalties, he said, noting that the state's municipal stormwater permits don't allow soap and detergents to enter a storm drain.
Alternatives include washing vehicles on a lawn, so the water, soap and debris can filter through the grass before being disbursed into the ground, or using a barrier to keep the water from reach a storm drain in the public street.
Since most storm drains run directly into local streams or marine waters -- without treatment -- storm drains are direct extensions of those local waters, Manning explained.
Public Works directors Peter Beaudry of Kennewick and Pete Rogalsky of Richland said their cities do not have municipal ordinances governing residential car washing.
In addition to the vehicle oils, dirt and heavy metals loosened by washing, soaps and detergents are toxic to fish and aquatic life.
Manning said Ecology's toxicity test information on car wash runoff confirms that it is more toxic than treated pulp mill effluent or discharges from industries where the state requires toxicity testing.
Manning noted that one toxicity study showed 50 percent of rainbow trout die in water that has about 3 percent wash water.
Ecology soon will post additional guidance about car washing on its website at www.ecy.wa.gov under "Spotlight."
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