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Waste oil: friend or foe.

Unless properly controlled, used oil can become one of Alaska's major environmental problems.

One drop at a time, used oil looks harmless. But all the drops of the gooey liquid from Alaska's autos, planes and industries add up to more than 10,000 tons of the pollutant each year - and that doesn't include oil generated by boats, military bases or federal agencies.

Then there's the problem of underground storage tanks. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) estimates there's currently about 4,000 registered commercial and 20,000 unregulated leaking household underground storage tanks around Alaska. Together, they contaminate approximately 700,000 to 1,900,000 tons of soil.

It all adds up to make waste oil a major pollution problem in Alaska.

Across the state, an army of volunteers and agencies are working to clean up and control waste oil. In some areas, they're winning the fight; in others, they're losing. Armed with the information in the following article, you can become part of Alaska's waste oil solution.

It's important to begin with an understanding of the laws governing used oil. Like an oil slick on water, these laws shift and change, but never go away. As science uncovers more facts about pollution, state and federal regulations become more broad and complex. Today, there are rules governing everything from what kind of oil you have to how to handle, reduce and dispose of it properly.

Federal regulations define three categories of used oil: on-spec (that falls within determined specifications), off-spec (that exceeds the specifications) and hazardous.

Handle with Care. Eddie Burke, owner of Eddie's Chevron in Anchorage, knows that it pays to handle waste oil properly.

"One can of brake fluid cleaner can contaminate a thousand gallons of oil," he says. "The cost is prohibitive to get rid of this stuff, so we take a lot of steps to keep our used oil clean."

He pays Alaska Pollution Control, a Palmer-based oil recycler, 75 cents a gallon to reprocess his "on-spec" oil. It costs him $2 a gallon to get rid of oil mixed with water. Mixed with solvents, the oil becomes hazardous and disposal even more expensive.

A recycling system keeps Burke's anti-freeze from getting carried into the oil tanks. A lid covering a drain on the shop floor stops water from washing into the tanks, and employees use pans to catch solvent before it can spill onto the floor.

Because oil also poses a health hazard, one of Burke's employees works as a company coordinator of the Green Star program, the Anchorage voluntary cooperative association that encourages environmentally sound business programs. He trains the other employees to handle wastes properly. Some of the tasks they learn include: segregating wastes in clean, durable containers; protecting the containers from weather and dirt; wearing gloves; washing skin or clothes stained with oil; keeping oily rags in designated bins instead of pockets; and not using kerosene, thinner or solvents to remove oil from the skin.

Hazardous waste oil requires even more guarded handling. If you've got small amounts of hazardous waste oil, keep it in spill-proof containers. EPA-approved hazardous waste haulers must be called to transport large amounts of hazardous waste oil (more than 55 gallons) off a business's premises.

Disposal Do's and Don'ts. The law has different requirements for getting rid of the different types of waste oil.

If you're a do-it-yourselfer generating less than 55 gallons of "on-spec" waste oil a month, you can legally burn it in a furnace to produce heat. Even off-spec oil can be burned in furnaces, boilers or space heaters regulated by the EPA.

In many cities and towns around Alaska, residents can leave on-spec, off-spec and hazardous waste oil at collection centers. Anchorage residents can take up to five gallons of waste oil a day to two locations run by the municipality's Solid Waste Services program, paying $5 for each visit. Small businesses can drop off up to 55 gallons a month at the city's facilities on Hiland Road in Eagle River.

"In 1992, we pumped 49,165 gallons of used oil from our holding tanks," says Bill Kryger, director of the Anchorage program. "That's an increase over the 40,875 gallons we pumped in 1991."

The municipality's waste oil ends up at Alaska Pollution Control for reprocessing.

In remote regions of Alaska, options are more limited. Because of the high cost of shipping, waste oil -- including hazardous stuff -- is often disposed of in local landfills. In the old Kenai dump, for example, between 1961 and 1972, businesses and residents dumped drilling muds, oily wastewater, septic tank wastes and other products. Tests conducted at the site in 1980 showed the presence of hazardous waste from used oil and contaminated fuel.

Companies that generate more than 55 gallons of waste oil a month usually contract with private companies to remove the oil and recycle it. Alaska Pollution Control in Palmer, for example, collects more than 750,000 gallons of used oil from 100 different companies around southcentral Alaska and processes it into industrial boiler fuel. Companies that produce more than 55 gallons of hazardous waste oil per month must ship it Outside, where it is burned at an EPA-permitted facility.

Authorized transporters of hazardous waste oil first test the lubricant to determine its properties. Then, following strict regulations, the oil is documented and sent south by boat for disposal. Each year, thousands of barrels of hazardous oil are sent Outside for disposal, for about $100 a barrel.

Reduce, Reuse. Two simple rules can help you reduce waste oil problems: Reduce the amount of oil you use, and reuse your waste oil on-site.

A host of new techniques and technologies can help you reduce the amount of oil you use. First, test your oil before you change it. Engine manufacturers usually provide an estimate of oil-change intervals based on worst case scenarios and are overly conservative for the average user. You can take oil samples and send them to labs for analysis, and use portable devices to test the engine oil yourself.

The municipality of Anchorage vehicle fleet program used a "Lubrisensor" device to test for oil changes and ended up each year generating one-third less used oil and saving more than $80,000.

In 1991, Carl Reller, an environmental researcher with the Alaska Health Project, an Anchorage-based non-profit organization, used a portable oil tester to check oil change intervals in diesel engines at remote sites around Alaska and found similar results.

"An oil test can pay for itself," he says. "It will save on the amount of oil you use, and can warn of any impending oil problems."

For businesses that can afford it, using expensive high-grade and synthetic oils can also cut down on waste oil because the products contain additives and are less likely to oxidize, qualities which allow the oil to perform longer. You can also add additive packages to oil to keep it clean and prevent viscosity breakdown and acid build-up.
 Dollars Tons of Solid
Rate Gallons per year Contaminated Disposal
 per year Lost Soils Cost
drop/10 sec. 40 240 150 12,000
drop/5 sec. 80 480 300 24,000
drop/sec. 410 2,500 1,500 120,000
3 drops/sec. 1,200 7,200 4,500 360,000
stream which 8,600 52,000 32,000 2,560,000
breaks into

The Dutch Harbor power-house field-tested by-pass filters and frequent oil tests to determine how much oil it used. Operator Shannon Morrison says both methods have cut the facility's oil consumption by 25 percent a year.

You can also test oil before you use it to see that it meets certification requirements. Approximately 10 percent of the lubricating oil on the market doesn't meet the standards and degrades faster than certified oil. Substandard oil causes acid to build up in engines and bearings to erode faster.

The second most important way to reduce waste oil is to burn it on-site to generate heat. Used oil enhances the Btu (British thermal unit) value of diesel fuel. In fact, one pint of used oil can generate more Btus than a pint of virgin oil. Recycling used oil for heat works especially well in Alaska's rural communities, where it costs a lot to ship used oil out and even more to fly new oil in. The EPA provides guidelines for burning used oil.

Tim LaPorte, owner of Iliamna Air Cargo, uses an EPA-approved waste oil burner to recycle used oil into heat for his airplane hangar. "We bought the burner because it provides good cheap heat and because we're more conscious about waste oil these days," he says. By mixing clean waste oil with stove oil, he estimates he saves about 1,000 gallons to 1,500 gallons of new stove oil each year.

But the burners aren't a fool-proof answer. Unless you know the quality of the oil you're burning, you may be releasing contaminants like heavy metals or lead into the air. Burning waste oil is not recommended in Anchorage or Fairbanks because both cities are close to exceeding the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon monoxide. Researchers also recommend stricter controls of burners.

Eddie Burke, the Anchorage service station owner, disagrees with the idea of more burner control because the appliances provide small business owners with an economical means of taking care of used oil. Burke currently pays $2,400 a year to recycle his 3,000 gallons to 4,000 gallons of used oil at Alaska Pollution Control; a new burner, at a cost of $3,000 to $5,000, could pay for itself in a few years.

Instead of recycling or reusing waste oil, a company can move it to a reprocessing facility, such as Alaska Pollution Control. Other states have another option for oil: re-refining, a process that makes new lubricants from waste oil. The new fuel is of a much higher quality than oil that is reprocessed. At present, no Alaska companies offer re-refining services.

Looking Into the Future. "Proper disposal of used oil is a major problem in Alaska," says Richard Sundet, an environmental specialist with ADEC. "The biggest challenge is lack of disposal options in the Bush."

Alaska's vast distances, isolated towns, expensive transportation networks and lack of collection centers make it hard to get a handle -- or even an estimate -- on all the state's waste oil problems. Most small communities are still trying to find ways of handling the limited amounts of waste oil they generate.
Location Volume of Oil
 in gallons
Southcentral 1,214,350
Northern and Interior 322,750
Southwest 130,000
Southeast 351,000
TOTAL: 2,018,000

With thousands of miles of coastline, Alaska's seaport towns also face continual oil pollution problems. Marine Pollution (MARPOL) regulations require coastal facilities to set up equipment for receiving oil and oil by-products from vessels. Many of these towns collect the oil and send it out of state for reprocessing or burn it for energy recovery. But other, more remote Alaska seaports have yet to set up such plans.

Despite the increasing regulations, individuals and businesses continue to mismanage their used oil. The regulations themselves can cause headaches.

"The new laws are very frustrating for some garage owners," says Eddie Burke, "because it has brought them a lot of technical stuff -- paperwork, documentation, filing -- that they are not used to."

But there's also a bright side to Alaska's waste oil story. It started long before the Exxon Valdez disaster. For years, individuals and groups around the state have worked to organize proper disposal of used oil. Regional advisory councils are forming to handle all kinds of pollution problems, including waste oil. In a few communities, volunteer organizations are working to educate citizens about recycling options.

Funding for waste oil is increasing. Part of the oil spill monies from the Exxon Valdez are going toward remedial cleanup, improved technology and stricter conservation methods. At other sites, like the municipality of Anchorage, administrators propose eliminating the $5 fee that comes with every disposal of 5 gallons of waste oil.

"By eliminating the $5 fee, we could hopefully encourage more people to dispose of their waste oil properly," says Bill Kryger, director of the municipal solid waste service program. "We received the most complaints from people who say they really should not have to pay to dispose of their used oil."

Perhaps the most important sign of change lies in people's attitudes.

"It's the wave of the future, and everybody seems to be conforming," says Burke. "If you're going to succeed in today's market, you must meet the expectations of today's market - and that means taking care of your waste oil."


EPA's latest used oil management standards, called Part 279, became effective in Alaska on March 8, 1993. Listed below is a summary of the new law.

Requirements for Generators. Service stations, auto repair shops, motorpools, shipyards, taxi and bus companies ... these are the common "generators" who produce or collect used oil. (More than 700,000 facilities nationwide qualify as generators. If you change your own oil or if you're a farmer who generates less than 25 gallons a year, you don't fall into this category.)

Part 279 specifies that generators must:

* Keep storage tanks and containers in good condition.

* Put "used oil" labels on storage tanks.

* Clean up used oil spills or leaks.

* Use a transporter with an EPA ID number when moving used oil off-site.

Requirements for Processors and Re-refiners. Over 300 facilities nationwide fall into this category as agencies that handle and store large amounts of used oil.

The new code requires these facilities to:

* Prepare a plan and a schedule to test used oil for halogen content.

* Track incoming used oil and outgoing used oil products.

* Safely manage used oil processing and re-refining residues.

* Properly close down your facility when you've stopped recycling.

Requirements for Transporters, Collectors and Burners. Take used oil from one site to another for recycling, and you're a "transporter" (unless you're transporting less than 55 gallons of your own used oil). More than 400 agencies nationwide are considered transporters and collectors of used oil. Less than 1,000 facilities burn used oil as fuel.

Under the new code, these facilities must:

* Obtain an EPA ID number and notify EPA of any activities concerning used oil.

* Keep storage tanks in good condition and label them "used oil."

* Process and store used oil in areas with "oil-impervious" flooring and containment structures (i.e., berms, ditches, retaining walls).

* Clean up used oil spills and leaks.

* Limit storage at transfer facilities to 35 days.

* Test waste in unused storage tanks to make sure it's not hazardous.

COPYRIGHT 1993 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related article on used oil regulations
Author:Woodring, Jeannie
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Nordstrom.
Next Article:Here's how: to avoid environmental liability.

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