Updated 18 February 2014

Used machine oil is toxic glop

Just 1 litre of used machine oil can contaminate 1 million litres of water. Oil pollution ruins aquatic ecosystems, causes cancer, damages fish hearts and likely hurts our hearts too.

When used oil is dumped or accidentally washed into storm-water drains, it ends up in ground and surface waters, threatening the health of aquatic organisms and the safety of our drinking water supply.

Used oil is any degraded lubricating oil drained from machinery e.g. engines, gearboxes and hydraulic systems. It decomposes only very slowly in the environment, and it's full of toxic compounds such as poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), to name just one type. Several PAH compounds are carcinogenic and mutagenic (i.e. they stimulate genetic mutation).

Links with heart disease

Recent research on the effects of oil spills on fish shows that this kind of pollution damages fish hearts by blocking chemical pathways that regulate heart rate and rhythm.

It's likely this would have a similar effect on human hearts, and may also be why petrol exhaust fumes cause cardiac problems in humans too.

 Recycle with the ROSE Foundation

Garages and DIY motor enthusiasts should be encouraged to keep used oil out of our waterways by recycling it via the ROSE (Recycling Oil Saves the Environment) Foundation, a non-profit, environmentally responsible oil recycler with drop-off centres and collection points throughout the country. 

Driving fuels demand

We tend to forget the link between oil use and pollution, and our own fossil fuel consumption, especially driving.

From that oil drip under your car chassis to massive tanker spills, petroleum pollution of all kinds happens because of our huge demand for the product. The less we use, the less we'll pollute.

Have your vehicle regularly serviced, fix oil leaks promptly...and skip driving it altogether whenever possible.

Got a good green tip or event to share? Email me at or post on the EnviroHealth Forum. If it's a planet-saver, we'll publish it.

Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.


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