When you buy a $300 pressure washer from the hardware store—or when you call up a friendly local pressure washing guy—for your home or commercial property, nobody ever mentions that you could be breaking the law the second you start spraying.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has strict regulations on exterior cleaning, and in recent years they have begun to enforce these laws with the strictest possible interpretations. Whether you are doing it yourself or hiring a professional, responsibility for any violations ultimately lies with the property owner.
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Did you know it is illegal in the US for anyone to discharge wash water into the storm drain system without an NPDES permit? This permit is location specific, making it unworkable for most pressure washer operators and individuals to obtain for mobile jobs, and even more challenging, it requires treatment and analysis of the discharge by an EPA agent to ensure compliance before approval.
The most common way in which pressure washing companies work around this regulation is to vacuum up the all waste water and haul it off, and those companies’ operating permits are conditional upon them doing this properly and safely. This solution is just as impractical as it sounds, and the added time and expense to collect and take the water away is passed on to the property owner.
Doing it this way can therefore be incredibly expensive, especially for larger scale jobs, and some companies choose to cut corners, exposing their clients to potential punishment.
In 2012 the EPA collected a record $252 million in fines from civil and criminal penalties related to water contamination.
For the property owner, these fines can be up to $50,000 per day if the water is allowed to discharge into the drainage system, especially if hazardous chemicals like benzene, lead or asbestos (common in commercial and industrial applications) are found. Commonplace detergents and cleaning solutions can also increase these fines if used improperly. Even residential owners can receive on-the-spot fines upwards of $600 for commonplace domestic washing.
While the financial penalties are serious, for many companies the potential damage to their reputation could be far more harmful in the long term. Would you want your name forever tied to news stories about pollution, chemical contamination and environmental damage?