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Dumping motor oil poses huge risk to environment

If the employees at the large Schmitt Inc. air-conditioning company in Hudson weren't drinking bottled water before last week, certainly they must be now. Motor oil is full of toxins, and somebody dumped a bunch of it out the company's back door into a dry retention area _ enough to form a 15-by-28-foot slick that soaked the soil 18 inches deep. Environmental officials still are trying to assess the damage of this illegal dumping, but the potential is staggering.

One quart of oil will foul the taste of 250,000 gallons of water, and this slick apparently came from several 55-gallon drums that were found on their sides where the company maintains 40 service vans and trucks.

If that oil did find its way into the underground water supply, anybody drinking it would be exposed to lead, zinc, arsenic, chromium and cadmium, all considered hazardous to health.

Given the size of this slick, the state will be expected to vigorously pursue its felony littering charges against owner Daniel Smith and shop foreman Charles Deal. One can hope that action will help increase the awareness of how easy it is these days to properly dispose of oil and, in doing so, preserve natural resources.

Currently, 360 registered transporters for used motor oil operate in Florida. Some haul it away for free; some actually pay for it, depending on the market for crude oil, said Raoul Clarke, environmental administrator for the state Department of Environmental Regulation in Tallahassee.

Because the Legislature passed the Solid Waste Management Act in 1988, 55 counties, including Pasco, have received state grants to begin local oil recycling plans. Homeowners are encouraged to take their used oil in marked plastic jugs to either the county landfill in Dade City or to the Sears automotive center at the Gulf View Square Mall. Beginning in June, the county also will accept used oil at the new West Pasco Class 3 landfill on Hays Road in Shady Hills.

Used oil can be re-refined for use time and again, said officials at the Pasco Environmental Management Department, which distributes a brochure on safe disposal. It takes 42 gallons of crude oil to produce 2{ quarts of new lubricating oil, the brochure states, "but just 1 gallon of used oil can be re-refined into the same high quality 2{ quarts of lubricating oil." Used oil also can be reprocessed into a fuel oil.

The environmental department notes that waste oil has the "most negative environmental impact of all automotive products because it's insoluble, persistent and contains toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Oil sticks to everything from beach sand to bird feathers. It floats on and pollutes our waterways. It is slow to degrade and evaporate."

So why, then, would anybody just dump it out the back door?