Antifreeze in a car is a liquid that reduces the freezing point of another liquid when included it. It is most frequently used in automobile and other internal combustion engines and mixed with water to protect the cooling system from freezing or as a heat transfer fluid. Antifreeze equally acts as water boiling prevention in the summer, adding up the boiling point by more than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Though essential to automobiles, antifreeze is very toxic to plants, animals and the environment, and should be treated and stored with greatest care.
What are the Chemical Composition
Antifreeze is comprised of either ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. They are similar chemicals, but propylene glycol is greatly less toxic. The more common of the two, ethylene glycol, has a slightly higher boiling point and is cheaper to produce. Both of these chemicals do eventually break down into nontoxic byproducts — carbon dioxide and water — if left alone, but in the interim are toxic substances.
Why Toxic to Animals and Plants
Antifreeze spills should be taken care of and cleaned up as fast as possible. Though propylene glycol is less toxic, ingestion of a small quantity of antifreeze can damage the central nervous system, even causing death in some situations. Its bright green color and sweet taste can be deceptively attractive to those who don’t know it is poisonous, like animals and small children. An estimated 10,000 cats and dogs are accidentally poisoned by antifreeze annually through ingestion. Antifreeze spills on lawns will kill the grass if not cleaned up immediately.
Heavy Metal Contamination
Over time, antifreeze will break down and form acids that corrode the inside of the automobile’s cooling system. In doing this, the antifreeze becomes contaminated with heavy metals, fuel and other grit from the engine. These include lead, tin, copper, zinc, iron and benzene — some toxic in their own right. These substances conveyed and deposited by antifreeze, can contaminate soil and water, poisoning organisms and damaging habitat.
Between the 25 percent and 50 percent of the 400 million gallons of antifreeze produced annually ends up being disposed of improperly, polluting the environment, EET Corp. reports. The major cause of this is the dumping by consumers. Though antifreeze on its own will break down to nontoxic substances, the damage before this occcurs and the heavy metals and other contaminants still pose a great environmental risk. Antifreeze should be safely conveyed to a recycling center for proper disposal.