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Can Auto Repair Shops Use Safer Chemicals?

May 21, 2015

On May 13, PPRC hosted a webinar on Safer Alternatives in the Auto Repair Industry. The webinar reviewed specific and effective ways that auto repair shops can improve the safety of the chemicals they use.

Larry Garcia, with Seattle City Light, presented a number of hazardous materials that auto shops still use as break cleaners and degreasers. Garcia offered many feasible and effective replacement chemicals, specifically water-based surfactants. Garcia also reviewed the new Washington state Better Brakes labeling system, which makes it easy for auto shops to chose brake pads that use minimal heavy metals.

Mike Vincent, with the City of Seattle Fleet Management Department, presented the nifty initiatives and technologies that the city has used to green the maintenance of its 4,000-vehicle fleet. To give just one of a dozen practices, the city uses an oil/water separator that has reduced issues related to stormwater discharge. Vincent also praised the value of the Envirostars program in assisting the city’s efforts. Vincent called the program an “excellent resource for reducing waste, saving water and energy, and increase recycling and reduction of hazardous materials.”

Dave Winters, co-owner of Swedish Automotive, detailed some of the innovative approaches that his shop has taken to use less energy and waste while minimizing its environmental impact. Among these approaches, the Five Star-rated Envirostars shop:

  • Uses solar panels to generate about 12.5% of its energy needs.
  • Is heated by a waste oil heater that burns waste oil from customer’s cars.
  • Uses no pesticides or fertilizers in its landscaping.

“We try to recycle everything,” Winters said of Swedish’s well-organized waste system. He also noted how much the technicians appreciate working in a healthier environment. Mike Vincent and Scott Lamb both suggested that Swedish serves as a community model for other auto shops looking to improve the cleanliness and health of their operations.

Finally, Scott Lamb, with the Washington Department of Ecology, underscored the necessity for shops to create a good waste profile. Lamb described how shops can create a detailed profile from Material Safety Data Sheets and chemical testing. Lamb also highlighted a worrying problem for businesses: new products and new chemicals aren’t accompanied by good safety information. For this reason, Lamb suggested that shops re-profile their waste every few years. He offered the Department of Ecology (specifically himself) as a resource for those shops with questions about a certain chemicals or waste designations. Ecology also offers a number of tools to assist businesses with Selecting Safer Chemical Alternatives.


– Cyrus Philbrick, Communications Manager

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