Used Oil and the Environment
By E. Ron Watson, Used Oil Management Association
The used oil-fired heating industry has grown in recent years, largely through a better understanding of the economic benefits and technological advances that make used oil-fired heating systems dependable and efficient. Used oil-fired hot-air furnaces and hot-water boilers manufactured by members of the Used Oil Management Association (UOMA) have earned UL or CSA listings.
But perhaps the most significant benefit of used oil-fired heating systems is what they do to protect the environment. Improper disposal of used oil is among the most significant sources of water pollution in the United States. One gallon of used oil can ruin one million gallons of water (a year's supply for 50 people) and create an eight-acre slick on surface water.
Unfortunately, the major polluters include not only those who unscrupulously dump used oil after being paid to haul it off-site, but the next-door neighbor who changes his own oil and disposes of it improperly in the trash or down the drain, for example. In addition to polluting the drinking water supply, improper disposal is a tremendous waste of another natural resource and source of energy: One gallon of used oil contains about 140.000 Btu of energy—about the same heating value as new oil.
UOMA estimates that all the used oil improperly disposed of by do-it-yourselfers could produce enough energy to heat 360,000 repair shops each year.
Many states have adopted guidelines for the collection of do-it-yourself used oil, and UOMA applauds and supports these efforts for both environmental and economic reasons. Nearly 20 years ago. Congress approved the Used Oil Recycling Act which established a mandate for the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that used oil recycling is "consistent with the protection of human health and the environment" The act also recognized the effects and benefits of used oil recycling on small quantity generators and small businesses.
EPA adopted three primary rules for operating used oil-fired heating systems: burn only used oil generated on-site or collected from do-it-yourself generators: furnace or boiler must be vented to ambient air; and furnace or boiler capacity cannot exceed 500.000 Btu.
These simple rules have been adopted by most states and similar guidelines are in place in some Canadian provinces. EPA reaffirmed its rules in 1992.
A study by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources determined that "emissions from these waste oil furnaces were reasonably able to demonstrate compliance with ambient standards — (and) the on-site management of used oils for energy recovery reduces the potential for other environmental impact caused by spills, improper disposal, and vehicle emissions generated during transport of the used oil off-site."
In 1996. Texas announced new regulations for authorizing burning used oil as a fuel without the need for a permit, after finding that "a significant opportunity for recycling used oil is to use it for fuel for heating purposes."
Most recently. New Jersey is evaluating the need to require air permits. The New Jersey Bureau of Air Quality concluded in a 1996 memo, "Taking into account the fact that these risks are about the same as burning standard fuel oil and the fact that allowing combustion of used automotive oils in space heating may reduce the amount of crankcase oil that is poured down storm drains, this risk appears to be insignificant."
The most recent findings support UOMA's 15-year effort to advocate the on-site recycling of used oil for energy recovery as a safe, efficient, economical and environmentally responsible method of managing used oil.