Environmentalists warn of soil contamination from auto shops spilling engine oil

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Environmental experts in Limpopo have raised concerns about the harmful effects of soil contamination and pollution resulting from engine oil spills in rural areas.

The absence of proper waste management systems in auto repair workshops has led to the widespread practice of spilling used oil on the ground, posing significant ecological challenges.

The detrimental impact of this practice has been highlighted by Brian Nematei, a workshop owner in Tshisaulu village near Thohoyandou.

Nematei and his colleagues handle numerous vehicles daily, including tasks like replacing engine, gearbox, diff, and axle oil. Instead of proper disposal, Nematei admits to spilling the used oil on the ground within the workshop premises, unaware of the potential dangers it poses to the environment.

Harmful substances

Used engine oil contains harmful substances and residues, including metal fragments and arsenic, which can adversely affect plants, water sources, and wildlife.

Nematei acknowledges the risks. “We are talking about a lot of oil that we drain from engines every day. We pour it into small containers, but we don’t have a proper place to dispose of it. We just spilled it on the ground inside the yard. It can be dangerous to us and the plants.”

Fortunately, there are safe and responsible ways to handle used engine oil, such as proper storage and recycling.

Andre Ehlers, an auto workshop owner in Polokwane, points out the importance of storing used oil in large containers and arranging for its collection by recycling companies, who often pay for the oil. This not only ensures proper disposal but also recognises the value of used oil.

Health and environmental challenges

Environmentalists stress that the contaminants present in used oil can lead to severe health and environmental challenges.

Dr. Desmond Musetsho, a consultant at Naledzi Environmental Consultants, explains that the impact extends to both human health and soil quality.

The ability of soil to support plant growth is compromised, thereby affecting the overall ecosystem. Plants absorb the oil from the soil, and its presence can disrupt the crucial process of photosynthesis, hindering the conversion of light energy into usable energy.

Dr. Musetsho encourages workshop owners to identify designated hazardous waste dumping sites where they can properly dispose of used oil, minimising the risk of contamination and promoting a cleaner and healthier environment.

By adopting responsible waste management practices, these workshops can contribute to safeguarding both human well-being and the integrity of the ecosystem.