The Environment Agency for England and Wales teamed up with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and Northern Ireland’s Environment and Heritage Service to produce the document.

The Environment Agency warned that the run-off from vehicle washing as a business or industrial activity is classified as trade effluent and must be dealt with properly to avoid causing pollution.

Any business or individual caught breaching laws on pollution in England and Wales could face a fine of up to £20,000 and even a prison sentence of up to three months.

Teresa Brown, the agency’s pollution prevention advisor, said: “Run-off from washing vehicles, particularly on a commercial scale, contributes to diffuse pollution that puts our wildlife at risk.

“If you discharge trade effluent – such as water contaminated with oil, detergents or sludge – into the environment or into drains without permission, you are breaking the law.

“With the rising popularity of car-washing businesses in retail and industrial premises such as supermarket car parks and former petrol filling stations, the risk that run-off will flow into storm water drains and pollute rivers is higher than ever.

“Dirt, brake rust, traffic film residues and oil that are washed off vehicles are all pollutants.

“Cleaning detergents and chemicals that are used, even those labelled biodegradable, can also be very poisonous to river life.”

The guide covers all methods of vehicle washing and cleaning, including automatic wash systems, washing by hand and using high pressure or steam cleaners.

It includes advice on where to clean vehicles, discharging in public sewers, using and storing detergents and cleaning up chemical spills.

Kate Martin

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