Washing your car can kill wildlife


Water runoff from home car washing is causing major environmental damage to Moreton Bay’s water quality and wildlife.

Moreton Bay, QLD

Moreton Island, Moreton Bay, QLD.

Credit: Tourism Queensland

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Water runoff from home car washing is causing major environmental damage to Moreton Bay’s water quality and wildlife.

“Contaminated waste from stormwater is a massive threat to marine environments and at the current rate the local dugong population could be severely compromised or potentially locally extinct by 2026,” says Simon Baltais, President of Wildlife Queensland.

“When you wash your car in an uncontrolled environment such as on the street, on your driveway or on a concrete surface, the water runoff goes directly into stormwater drains which is transported by a system of pipes and gutters directly into our waterways, including Moreton Bay,” says Lance Woodrow, Director of Zoom Carwash, a Brisbane-based eco-car wash.

Home car washing contributes approximately 400 Olympic sized swimming pools of sludge into Moreton Bay every year and with more cars on South-East Queensland’s roads every day.

“This issue is not just limited to Moreton Bay. In fact, Sydney Harbour is full also of heavy metals, which is mostly due to uncontrolled car washing. You can’t eat anything from the harbour and if we don’t do something Moreton Bay will suffer the same fate,” says Woodrow.

What’s the dirt?

“Pollutants that are washed off your car include serious toxins such as petroleum hydrocarbon waste from gasoline, diesel and motor oil as well as dissolved copper, lead and zinc from brake dust. Other toxic chemicals include nitrogen, phosphorous and surfactants from cleaning products and solid sediment,” says Woodrow.

Baltais explains how these toxins affect wildlife, telling G-Online that “petroleum hydrocarbons are ingested by bottom-dwelling aquatic organisms which are then transmitted up the food chain harming the development of fish eggs. Copper is toxic to phytoplankton which is the base of the aquatic food chain.”

“Lead can cause anemia, depressed growth, fin degeneration and reduced egg hatching success while Zinc primarily affects microorganisms. Phosphorous and nitrogen can cause algal blooms which alter oxygen levels in water. Surfactants from a vehicle can strip fish gills of natural oils therefore interrupting oxygen transfer while solids can cover prime spawning areas."

Pristine Moreton Bay

“Moreton Bay is actually the only highly populated area on the planet with a local dugong population, if we continue as we are then we could potentially lose them by 2026. Not only this, the location of the Bay and other natural waterways in relation to highly populated areas puts Moreton Bay at a very high risk,” says Baltais.

“People believe that by using biodegradable detergents they are preventing this problem but unfortunately there are still an abundance of chemicals that are washed directly into stormwater systems. The best solution is to prevent any toxic substance from going down the stormwater drain at all.”