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Beach Triangle Residents Association

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The Beach Triangle Residents Association, Toronto, Ontario

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A Friendly Reminder

By David Windrim

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When is it illegal to wash your car? Well, when you're a Toronto resident and you're in your driveway, but there are options...

Drop that sudsy bucket, Toronto car drivers you could be breaking the law! A Toronto by-law, passed in 2000, prohibits the runoff from driveway car washing from entering the storm sewer and discharging into lakes and rivers untreated. City Hall says unregulated storm sewer discharge is a leading cause of water pollution. Home car washes contribute detergent, grease, oil, heavy metals, brake dust and other contaminants directly into sensitive aquatic habitats. Even if a biodegradable detergent is used, there is a compound that can act as a foaming agent that poses a hazard to fish stocks by stripping their external mucous layer that provides protection from bacteria and parasites.

The City of Toronto recommends that consumers use commercial car washes instead of the driveway bucket and brush. Automatic car washes use far less water than your average home wash and, by law, all commercial wash water goes down the sanitary sewer to be treated before discharge.

Enforcement is primarily by complaints, and even then it's normally education about the sewer system and the environmental effects of home car washing, rather than a ticket. Toronto by-law officers haven't yet issued a violation notice. However, repeat offenders could be ticketed and face fines of up to $10,000 if a collected water sample proves a sewer use by-law violation.

For do-it-yourselves, the best option may be to use a self-serve wash booth so waste water is treated. While not recommended, residents in other regions with a similar ban suggest using an absorbent mat to collect wastewater, parking on your lawn so the runoff doesn't enter the storm sewer (though your lawn may suffer), or using a flowing hose-end brush or power washer without detergent. Pour leftover wash water down your laundry tub so it gets treated.