Industry Insight: DIY Oil Changes, Superfund Contamination and You

Jan. 1, 2020

The AOCA says that even if shops reach contracts for the proper disposal of waste oil, negligence down the line can still come back to bite owners in the event of a Superfund site.

Could your shop be held liable for contamination at a long-shuttered waste disposal site?

The Automotive Oil Change Association is lobbying to eliminate unfair liability in these cases. Even if a disposal site has been shut down for decades, the federal Superfund law could come back to bite shops.

That was the case in 2013 for one owner. New Hampshire Public Radio reported on the Beede Superfund Site, a former oil waste disposal site in Plaistow that shut down in 1994. Groundwater contamination led to Superfund designation, which led to a $10,000 legal bill for Shaw’s Service Station in Manchester, according to the NHPR report.

The shop had sent its waste oil to the facility in past decades—long before the current owner took over the place.

To prevent other situations like this for waste oil generators like quick lubes, the AOCA is calling for greater protection for shops and more oversight for companies that transport and recycle used oil.

Providing a Service

Within the Superfund law, there’s a provision called the Service Station Dealer Exemption, which is meant to encourage professional auto shops to collect used engine oil from home mechanics. The hope is to keep them from unsafely disposing of the oil.

If that DIYer used oil (as well as the shop’s own used oil) is not contaminated and is properly transported and disposed, then this provision should shield shops from liability if the waste site eventually becomes a Superfund.

But, there was a seven-year delay to enact the provision, according to Joanna Johnson, the AOCA’s policy advisor. During that time, quick lube shops were exposed to liability from Superfund oil waste sites.

“Of the approximately 62 known used oil-recycling-related Superfund sites across 26 states, 42 percent operated between 1986 to 1993, resulting in fast lube owners getting hit with millions of dollars in contribution claims and legal fees,” Johnson says.

The AOCA says that more protections are needed, particularly when new Superfund sites could be added at any time.

Shops and the DIY Mechanic

Lots of quick lube shops accept waste oil from home mechanics who change their own oil. Regardless of whether or not the operator is paid for waste oil pickup, this service includes a bit of risk that the third-party contributor has contaminated their used oil in some way.

“If a fast lube facility does not have segregated storage for DIYer used oil, then a single contaminated batch of DIYer used oil can contaminate an entire tank’s worth of used oil, necessitating the expensive management of that oil as a ‘hazardous waste,’ and cleaning or disposal and replacement of the affected tank equipment,” Johnson says.

On this issue, the AOCA has aligned with some policies promoted by the National Oil Recyclers Association to promote used oil recycling options for waste oil generators and to create a more effective system for identifying and disposing of contaminated waste oil from DIY mechanics.

Still, the risk remains for shops. Johnson says that added protections are needed for cases when contamination is found after transportation or when DIY mechanics leave oil samples at a shop during odd hours.

Time is Right

As government officials are looking at potential changes to used oil and recycling rules, the AOCA is stepping up its efforts. Johnson says that one thing the AOCA advocates for is continual oversight of disposal sites and used oil recycling facilities by state governments. State laws can override Superfund law exemptions.

The federal government could be in a position to change its policies. Since 2018, the U.S. Department of Energy has been reviewing its policies around used oil recycling, a discussion in which NORA is deeply involved. 

The quick lube industry plays a huge part as the country’s top generator of used automotive engine oil. The AOCA estimates that around 95 million gallons are disposed of annually.

Used oil-related Superfund sites

  • Liquid Gold Oil Corp. (California)
  • Lubrication Co. of America (California)
  • PRC Patterson Waste Oil Superfund site (California)
  • Purity Oil (California)
  • Approved Oil Services Site (Colorado)
  • Triangle Petroleum (Colorado)
  • National Oil Services (Connecticut)
  • Davis Refining Superfund Site (Florida)
  • Dubose Oil Products Co. (Florida)
  • Florida Petroleum Re-processors (Florida)
  • Gold Coast Oil Corp (Florida)
  • Holloway Waste Oil Superfund Site (Florida)
  • Peak Oil (Florida)
  • Petroleum Products (Florida)
  • Whitehouse Oil (Florida)
  • J.L. Waste Oil (Georgia)
  • Lenz Oil (Illinois)
  • CAM-OR Inc. a/k/a Westville Oil (Indiana)
  • Wayne Reclamation (Indiana)
  • Combustion, Inc. (Louisiana)
  • Old Inger Oil Refinery a/k/a Darrow Oil (Louisiana)
  • Petro-Processors of Louisiana, Inc. (Louisiana)
  • Portland/Bangor Waste Oil (Maine)
  • Howe’s Corner (Maine) 
  • Murphy’s Waste Oil Superfund Site (Massachusetts)
  • SRS Environmental a/k/a Sybill Inc. (Michigan)
  • Arrowhead Refining (Minnesota)
  • Warden Oil Company (Minnesota)
  • Industrial Pollution Control “IPC” Superfund Site Mississippi)
  • Beede Oil Superfund Site (New Hampshire)
  • Bridgeport Rental & Oil Services (New Jersey)
  • Diamond Head Oil Refinery a/k/a Ag-Met Oil Service (New Jersey)
  • York Oil (New York)
  • P&W Waste Oil Services Superfund Site (North Carolina)
  • Huth Oil (Ohio)
  • Laskins/Poplar (Ohio)
  • Harbor Oil Superfund Site (Oregon)
  • C.R. Warren (Pennsylvania)
  • Douglasville/Berks Site (Pennsylvania)
  • MacDonald & Watson Waste Oil (Rhode Island)
  • Jack Goins Waste Oil Superfund site (Tennessee)
  • Gulf Oil Co. (Tennessee)
  • Saad Superfund Site (Tennessee)
  • Baldwin Waste Oil (Texas)
  • Dixie Oil Processors, Inc. (Texas)
  • JC Pennco Waste Oil Service Superfund Site (Texas)
  • Malone Services (Texas)
  • McBay Oil & Gas (Texas)
  • Petrochemical Systems (Texas)
  • R&H Oil Company (Texas)
  • Sheridan Disposal Services (Texas)
  • Texas American Oil (Texas)
  • U.S. Oil Recovery Superfund Site (Texas)
  • Voda Petroleum, Inc. a/k/a Ultra Oil (Texas)
  • Waste Oil Tank Service (Texas)
  • Ekotek Superfund Site (Utah)
  • Intermountain Waste Oil Refinery Superfund Site (Utah)
  • CleanCare (Washington)
  • SAFECO Environmental (Washington)
  • Time Oil Co. (Washington)
  • Western Processing (Washington)
  • Amber Oil (Wisconsin)

(Source: AOCA)