What are Common Pollutants?

Runoff pollutants come from many different sources such as oil on our roads, trash dropped on the streets, and sediment from construction sites. These pollutants can cause algal blooms, bacterial growth, harm to animal and human health, dirty beaches, and beach closures. Prevention is the key.

Home Solvents

Many common household cleaning products contain harmful chemical compounds which are toxic and volatile. If not used and disposed of properly, these chemicals enter our waterways and pose a threat to both human and aquatic life. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, dispose of waste at your local household hazardous waste recycling center, and choose cleaners without harmful chemicals whenever possible.


Paints, preservatives, varnishes, brush cleaners, and solvents contain a wide range of chemicals, some of which are suspected carcinogens. These products should never be put in storm drains, sewer or septic systems. Instead, dispose of waste at your local household hazardous waste recycling center. Learn more, visit our Home Repair & Improvements page.

Engine Oil

Composed of a mixture of several hundred organic chemicals, motor oil becomes contaminated with heavy metals and chemicals as it is used. When it enters our waterways, aquatic animals can be affected either directly when covered with oil or indirectly through reduced resistance to infection and disease. Plants can also be killed, or their growth stunted. In the long term, toxic substances are released as the oil breaks down, exposing aquatic plants and animals to potentially carcinogenic compounds. It is important to check your vehicles for leaks and properly clean up and contain engine oil spills. Learn more, visit our Car Maintenance page. Find your local used oil collection center HERE.

Yard Debris

Leaves and grass are a natural part of our ecosystems. However, when these materials end up in our lakes, rivers, or ocean, they begin to decompose and use up the critical, life-giving oxygen while “super fertilizing” the water with nutrients. As a result, these bodies of water can become unsightly, release a foul odor and lead to algal blooms and fish kills. Additionally, this excess debris can obstruct flow and clog downstream culverts, leading to localized flooding and erosion problems. When doing yard work, be sure not to leave any debris behind and dispose of properly in a green waste bin. Learn more, visit our Lawn and Garden Care page.


“Pesticides” is an umbrella term that includes herbicides, insecticides, fungicides, and rodenticides. Designed to kill “pests,” this big family of chemicals can also be dangerous to human health and the environment if applied incorrectly. When they enter our waterways, they can kill fish and plant life. It is important to be extremely careful in handling pesticides and to use safe alternatives whenever possible. Always apply pesticides according to instructions at the proper time and rate so that you use no more than is necessary. A good rule of thumb is to not apply pesticides 48 hours before a rain event.

Pet Waste

Waste from animals contains pathogens and bacteria. Some bacteria (like E. Coli) are harmful to people and animals. Bacteria affect land and water quality by increasing the risk of it spreading to humans and aquatic life. Bacteria from pet waste can lead to beach closures if it accumulates. Picking up after your pet is an individual act that has watershed-level effects.


Many detergents contain phosphorus (an important plant nutrient). When excessive amounts of phosphorus from detergents get into our waterways, it can lead to hypoxia (low oxygen levels) which can cause fish kills and other ecological problems. Additionally, soaps can remove the protective mucous layer from fish, leaving them susceptible to disease. Use detergents without phosphorus whenever possible and be sure to use and dispose of all detergents responsibly.


Trash includes debris and litter, all of which can enter the storm drain system if not properly contained or disposed of. Items such as straws, cups, and paper can pollute our waterways, create water flow problems, and contaminate aquatic habitats. Always secure your trash can lid and properly dispose of waste.


When fertilizers are inappropriately applied, the plants are unable to absorb all the nutrients and the remainder simply runs off. This is not only a waste of your time and money but also causes environmental harm through runoff. When fertilizers enter our waterways, they can feed algae to unsafe levels. These algal blooms deprive other plants of sunlight and nutrients and can lead to hypoxia (low oxygen levels) which can lead to fish kills. Always apply fertilizer according to instructions at the proper time and rate so that you use no more than is necessary.  A good rule of thumb is to not apply pesticides 48 hours before a rain event.


How can I help prevent runoff prevention?

There are ways to prevent polluted runoff from entering our storm drains. Check out the following links to learn more about how you can help prevent runoff pollution.

Pollution Prevention for Construction Sites

Pollution Prevention for Businesses

Pollution Prevention for Residents

Low Impact Development


Also, check out our applicable brochures below:

The Ocean Begins at Your Front Door

Tips for Protecting Your Watershed (Spanish)


Did you know?

Solar panels are virtually maintenance free since the batteries require no water or other regular service and will last for years. Once solar panels are installed there are no recurring costs.  Learn more about solar.

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