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Auto Repair: Glossary of Terms
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Definitions/Glossary of Terms

Absorption - The movement of a chemical-species through an interface. The taking up of one substance into the body of another (across a membrane) by molecular or chemical action (as a sponge takes up water).

Aerosol spray cans - These cans are thin-walled steel pressure vessels pressurized with one of several hydrocarbon propellants, such as butane.

Air Emissions - Pollution discharged into the atmosphere from smokestack, vents, and surface areas of commercial or industrial facilities. Air emissions are controlled by the requirements of the California Air Resources Board because they contribute to the generation of air toxics, loss of air quality, and the formation of photochemical smog.

Alternative technology - Technology developed or used to reduce hazardous waste generation, promote recycling, or develop alternative disposal methods.

Biodegradable - Capable of being decomposed by biological means (e.g. metabolic processing by microorganisms).

BMPs - Best Management Practices are practices or structures designed to reduce the quantity of water pollutants, such as sediment, oils, heavy metals, etc. that are washed by rain and snowmelt from facility work-pads, parking lots, driveways, etc. into surface or ground waters. BMPs include runoff control, spill prevention and response procedures that will prevent or reduce the contamination of water supplies.

Carcinogen - A substance which can cause cancer.

Catalyst - A substance, usually present in small amounts, that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without being consumed in the process.

Catalytic Converters - Most cars today are equipped with a three-way catalytic converter. The term Three-way refers to the three emissions it helps to reduce carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons or volatile organic compounds (VOC's) and NOx molecules. The converter uses two different types of catalysts, a reduction and an oxidization catalyst. Both types consist of a base structure coated with a catalyst such as platinum, rhodium and /or palladium.

CFCs - Chlorofluorocarbons are a family of inert, nontoxic, and easily?liquefied chemicals used in automotive air conditioning, certain solvents and aerosol propellants. Because CFCs can drift into the upper atmosphere (Stratosphere) where the chlorine is released, it can destroy the protective (UV radiation) ozone layer.

Chlorinated Solvent - A liquid compound or mixture of compounds capable of dissolving or dispersing one or more other substances and which contain chlorine as one constituent. Examples include 1,1,1-trichloroethane and methylene chloride.

Container - Any device in which hazardous waste can be stored, handled, treated, transported, recycled, or disposed of, and is designed to be portable when it is empty. Note: Oil filters are not considered containers (Title 22 CCR §66261.7) and their required management is described in Title 22 §66266.130.

Corrosivity - Used oil and other shop wastes are considered corrosive if they corrode (chemically etches through) steel at a rate of 0.25 inches per year or greater at a test temperature of 130°F and/or has a pH less than 2 or greater than 12.5 (Title 22 CCR §66260.10).

Contaminants - Any object, such as polish, wax, tree sap, tar, and oil, that would damage the paint film or spoil the adhesion of a new paint film.

Discharge - Usually refers to the release of a liquid waste into a body of water through an outlet such as a pipe, outfall, etc. but also refers to air emission from stacks, flues, vents, etc.

Disposal - The discharge, deposit, injection, spilling, leaking, or placing of any solid waste or hazardous waste into the environment (land, surface water, ground).

Distillation - A physical separation process based on the difference(s) in the boiling points of the components in a liquid mixture. A process of evaporation and re-condensation used to separate liquids into various fractions according to their boiling points.

Generator - Any person, or site, whose act or process produces hazardous wastes as identified or listed in 40 CFR 261.

Good Housekeeping Practices...General operation and maintenance practices which can reduce or eliminate unnecessary spills, leaks, and other material losses. (ref link -

Groundwater - Underground water supplied from an aquifer. The portion of subsurface water that is in the zone of saturation, where nearly all openings between soil particles are filled with water.

Hazardous Material - A material that, because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics, may pose a threat to human health and the environment.

Hazardous Waste - "A solid waste or combination of solid wastes which, because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or infectious characteristics, may:
(a) cause or significantly contribute to an increase in mortality or an increase in serious irreversible, or incapacitating reversible illness; … or
(b) pose a substantial present or potential hazard to human health or the environment when improperly treated, stored, transported, or disposed of, or otherwise managed." (H&SC Div. 20, Sect 6.5 25117)

There are two groups of RCRA wastes: Listed wastes and Characteristic wastes. The major difference between the two groupings is that listed wastes are hazardous simply by virtue of the process that generates the waste, and characteristic wastes are hazardous only if they exhibit a hazardous characteristic.

Hazardous waste management hierarchy - A prioritization of methods to manage hazardous waste. Management priorities, from the most favorable to least favorable, are source reduction, recycling, treatment, and disposal. Refer to page 1-5, Figure 1.

Hazardous Waste Reduction Assessment - An analysis of hazardous waste generating processes to identify opportunities for waste reduction. Also referred to as a waste reduction "audit. (ref link-

Hazardous waste source reduction & management review act of 1989 (sb-14) - The first piece of legislation in California that requires hazardous waste generators to identify and consider implementing opportunities for source reduction as the preferred method of managing waste.

Heavy Metals - Hazardous elements, including mercury and lead, which may be found in the waste stream as part of discarded items such as batteries and lighting.

Leachate Metals - Water that collects contaminants as it trickles through wastes, pesticides or fertilizers. Leaching may occur in farming areas, feedlots, and landfills, and may result in hazardous substances entering surface water, ground water, or soil.

Lead-acid batteries - Known as storage batteries, they are used primarily in cars and other motor vehicles. As the name implies, lead-acid batteries contain predominantly lead and acid. The typical battery weighs 36 pounds and contains about 18 pounds of lead, a toxic metal, and 1 gallon of sulfuric acid, a corrosive liquid. Other components include rubber separators, lead oxides, and sulfates. The battery components are contained in a corrosive and heat-resistant housing usually composed of plastic (polycarbonate, polypropylene, or polystyrene).

Mercury (Hg) - Heavy metal that can accumulate in the environment and is highly toxic if breathed or swallowed.

Mercury Switches - Mercury is a potent toxic chemical that causes brain, lung and kidney damage in humans. The substance has been used in switches for hood and trunk convenience lighting, and in other devices, becoming a contaminant when vehicles are scrapped.

n-Hexane - n-Hexane is a chemical made from crude oil. Pure n-hexane is a colorless liquid with a slightly disagreeable odor. It evaporates very easily into the air and dissolves only slightly in water. n-Hexane is highly flammable, and its vapors can be explosive.

Non-point Source Pollution - A source of pollution not associated with a distinct discharge point. Non-point sources include rainwater and snowmelt, runoff from industrial sites, parking lots, and construction operations. Storm water control requirements are one aspect of NPS requirements that effect automotive shops.

Particulates - 1. Fine liquid or solid particles such as dust, smoke, mist, fumes, or smog, found in air or emissions. 2. Very small solids suspended in water; they can vary in size, shape, density and electrical charge and can be gathered together by coagulation and flocculation.

NOx - Oxides of nitrogen. An exhaust emission caused by high combustion temperatures.

Oil - Oil is a mixture of hydrocarbon fractions, C2 to C14 aliphatic chains and a small amount of aromatic compounds.

Ozone depletion - Destruction of the earth's stratospheric ozone layer. Chlorinated compounds drift upward into the stratosphere where they break down to form free chlorine that can destroy ozone molecules. The loss of stratospheric ozone molecules reduces the earth's shielding from ultraviolet radiation.

pH - An expression of the intensity of the basic or acid condition of a liquid; may range from 0 to 14, where 0 is the most acid and 7 is neutral. Natural waters usually have a pH between 6.5 and 8.5.

Pollution - Degradation (impairment) of environmental quality by the release of substances that cause a health hazard or contaminate soil, water or air. A chemical, biological or physical deviation from the natural condition (or established regulatory parameters) of a resource.

Pollution Prevention - Essentially source reduction. Pollution Prevention emphasizes reduction of all wastes and emissions and discharges to air and water.

Recycling - The reuse, or reclamation of waste after it has been generated can take the form of:

  • Direct reuse as a raw material
  • Processing to remove impurities or regenerate for reuse
  • Recovery of useful components

Regulations - Are rules, orders, criteria, or performance standards, etc. adopted by a state agency to implement, interpret, or make specific the law enforced or administered by it.

Resource conservation & recovery act - "RCRA" is the law that provides for federal regulation of hazardous waste activities from "cradle to grave"(e.g. generation, transportation, treatment, and disposal) to prevent improper disposal and encourage resource conservation.

Resource recovery - Salvaging discarded materials or converting them into a reusable, saleable, or valuable form.

Reuse - The use of a previously-used material in the same or different process.

Source Reduction - A reduction in the volume and/or toxicity of a waste prior to its generation. Includes good "house-keeping" practices, material and product changes, and technological modifications.

Toxicity - A Waste is deemed toxic if it is shown "to pose a hazard to human health or the environment because of carcinogenicity, acute toxicity, chronic toxicity, bio-accumulative properties or persistence in the environment."

Universal Wastes - Specific hazardous wastes that are destined for recycling.

Used oil - "Used oil means any oil that has been refined from crude oil, or any synthetic oil, that has been used, and, as a result of use or as a consequence of extended, storage, or spillage, has been contaminated with physical or chemical impurities".

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - Organic compounds that if released into the atmosphere can form ozone in the presence of heat and sunlight. VOCs include benzene, toluene, and xylene.

Water Pollution - The impairment of water quality by agricultural, domestic or industrial wastes to a degree that the natural water quality is changed to hinder any beneficial use of the water or render it offensive to the senses of sight, taste, or smell or when sufficient amounts of wastes create or pose a potential threat to human health or the environment.

Waste Minimization - The reduction of hazardous waste generated and subsequently treated, stored, or disposed of by means of source reduction and recycling.

Wastestream Minimization - The reduction of hazardous waste generated and subsequently treated, stored, or disposed of by means of source reduction and recycling.


The Topic Hub™ is a product of the Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange (P2Rx)

The Auto Repair Topic Hub™ was developed by:

Western Sustainability Pollution Prevention Network
Western Sustainability Pollution Prevention Network
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Hub Last Updated: 6/5/2013