Slick Arena’s Damage Environment
(by Dudley Baylis)

Using waste oil to reduce dust on arenas is not only illegal it’s environmentally hazardous!

The Greater Kyalami Conservancy (GEKCO) would like to raise awareness about the practice of pouring old motor oil on horse riding arenas as a dust control measure. This causes significant environmental damage which could result in the perpetrators incurring significant fines and even criminal prosecution under the Environmental Management Act.

In discussions with some of the stable-yards that use this method of dust control, it appears that the owners of these yards are unaware of the dangers posed by used oil. According to one owner, the oil is significantly cheaper than using water as a dust control measure, and is better for the environment because it doesn’t waste water. He was also of the belief that the oil is in any case a natural substance and breaks down naturally to harmless substances over time.

Unfortunately, this view is very far from the reality of the actual damage that is being done. The purpose of this article is to inform those using motor oil of the actual impact in the hope that they will refrain from using waste oil as a dust control measure in future.

The Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism classifies waste or used motor oil as a hazardous substance. Depending on its source, it has acute and chronic toxicity and very damaging environmental consequences, both short and long term. According to The ROSE Foundation, which encourages the recycling of oil to save the environment, any form of oil spill needs to be dealt with urgently and diligently to avoid harm. By some estimates, a single litre of waste oil can contaminate up to a million litres of water if dumped down a storm drain or directly onto ground.

Waste oil can contain many different forms of contaminants, including Benzene, Zinc, Lead and the highly toxic Toluene and Xylene. Hazard ratings range between level 1 (Extreme Hazard) and level 3 (Moderate) depending on which of these substances the oil contains.

We have all observed the impact of oil spills on surface water and birdlife. Not only does it kill the birds and cause birth defects for generations to come, but it also kills reeds and grassland. In places like Kyalami, where a significant number of residents draw their potable water from groundwater sources, this oil drains through the underlying geology eventually finding its way to the groundwater sources.

Environmental specialist Carin Bosman puts it this way:

My opinion is that it is not a good practice – although the promoters of this practice will tell you that oil is bio-degradable, that is only true for a certain organic portion of the oil.  Used oil particularly contains a lot of heavy metals, which will, when used over time, even in small quantities, reach the groundwater.  In addition, oil contains poly-aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s), which are not easily bio-degradable, and which tend to form DNAPL’s (Dense Non-Aqueous Phase Liquors) which are quite heavy, and enter the underlying geology, where they causes severe contamination.  These PAH’s are also proven carcinogens. “

Legally, the National Environmental Management Act enshrines some key principles. The Duty of Care means that the generator is responsible for the fate of generated waste in all circumstances. The Polluter Pays Principle implies that the person or organisation causing pollution is liable for any costs involved in cleaning-up or rehabilitating its effects, and the Precautionary Principle states that all waste is assumed to be both highly hazardous and toxic until proven otherwise.

If you happen to stable a horse at a yard that does use waste oil on the riding arenas, you need to be aware of the physical dangers of carcinogens and other toxins to yourself and your horse. Hopefully you can become part of the awareness process to bring about an end to this highly deleterious activity.

Responsible horsemanship also means caring for our environment, and suitable dust control measures are a part of that responsibility.

Obviously dust control is an essential aspect of stable yard management. Dust affects the respiratory systems of horse and rider alike. But there are many non-invasive dust-suppressors available on the market specifically devised for riding arenas. Some are organic natural oil based liquids which are safe to humans, animals and the environment.

The Greater Kyalami Conservancy (GEKCO) represents who appreciate the natural habitat within the region and would also like to  preserve and conserve a relatively rural way of life in an area which sustains several endangered species, wetlands and ridges as well as one of the world’s highest densities of horses and a thriving equine industry.

Dudley Baylis is a renewable energy specialist at Bridge Capital. He writes in his personal capacity.