While news reports focus on the air pollution that vehicles produce, the cars people drive daily on the streets cause pollution in other ways as well. Cars are complex machines consisting of radiators, plastic, oil, rubber, hazardous wastes and other fluids. If car owners allow some of these items to make it into the environment, pollution problems can occur -- and can affect everyone.
Oil leaked from cars is among the major contributors to water pollution, according to the Washington State Department of Ecology in its website post "Car Maintenance." Each year, people spill 180 million gallons of used motor oil into lakes and rivers, making it the biggest contributor to oil pollution in those types of waterways. Even if you're not near a stream, rain can wash oil into storm drains, where it travels to waterways. Because motor oil and water do not mix, the oil takes a long time to disappear. As seen in massive tanker spills, oil can harm plants, kill animals and adhere to any substance it touches. Other engine fluids that spill can also contribute to the pollution problem.
Car Parts That Pollute
Improperly discarded car batteries can create a major health hazard and pollution source. Auto batteries contain lead and sulfuric acid, which can harm the environment and pose health risks. In some states, it's against the law to toss batteries into the garbage. Old, discarded car tires also pose health and environmental risks -- especially when people burn them. Proper tire recycling reduces the risks of health and environmental problems.
Danger in the Air
A car doesn't have to blow a thick cloud of smoke to be a major source of air pollution. Cars burn oil, a fossil fuel that releases nitrogen oxides, which contribute to acid rain and smog. Greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, warm the planet -- an action that can cause adverse weather problems, rising sea levels and health risks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions came from transportation vehicles in 2012. The EPA also reports that people who work, live or attend schools close to major roads have a greater number of health problems associated with motor vehicle pollution. Those problems range from asthma to cardiovascular disease and can even include premature death.
Help Keep the Environment Clean
You can reduce oil pollution by checking your car regularly for leaks. If they exist, place drip pans or other containers below the car to catch the oil. Do not pour oil, antifreeze or other car fluids onto the ground or into a storm drain. Find an oil-recycling center in your area and take used motor oil there. Store car batteries in a strong cardboard box or vented plastic bucket, but do not put them in an airtight container. You should also recycle old batteries. Help reduce air pollution by keeping your car maintained, carpooling or taking the bus when possible. You can also purchase an electric or hybrid car that doesn't pollute the air as much as cars that only burn fossil fuel.
- Department of Ecology State of Washington: Washington Waters - Car Maintenance
- Minnesota Pollution Control Agency: Household Batteries
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: The Sources and Solutions: Fossil Fuels | Nutrient Pollution
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Sources | Climate Change
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Near Roadway Air Pollution and Health | Transportation and Air Quality
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency: Science | Climate Change
- Drake County Solid Waste Management: Tire Recyling
- TAGSTOCK1/iStock/Getty Images