How to Determine if Lubricants Comply with EPA Standards

Noria Corporation

“Do all environmentally friendly lubricants have approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? How can you determine if lubricants are compliant with EPA standards?”

When it comes to environmentally friendly lubricants, the Vessel General Permit (VGP) is one of the key standards to be aware of. It outlines the requirements for environmentally friendly lubricants, especially as they pertain to marine applications and those close to ports. The EPA published this document as a way to help mitigate issues associated with lubricants finding their way into waterways.

The primary concerns when selecting an environmentally friendly lubricant are that it will not harm the environment if an accidental spill occurs and that it will break down quickly if it is spilled or leaks out. There are many ways to assess this lubricant property.

Some people use terms such as “inherently biodegradable” or “readily biodegradable” as a way to select a lubricant. These refer to how quickly the lubricant will break down in the environment, typically in the presence of water and microorganisms. Inherently biodegradable lubricants will degrade between 20 to 60 percent over a period of 28 days. Readily biodegradable lubricants, which are classified by the EPA as environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs), degrade by at least 60 percent in 28 days.

The lubricant’s makeup is the main factor in whether it will be categorized as environmentally friendly. Generally, lubricants that hold this certification are those with lower amounts of heavy additives, such as extreme-pressure or anti-wear additives, as well as those that are made of vegetable base oils.

Some synthetic lubricants, specifically esters, break down quickly in the presence of water and tend to do well in biodegradation testing. Heavily additized fluids, such as robust mineral oils, perform the worst in this type of testing and will not be listed as environmentally friendly. These lubricants should always have secondary containment equipment around them and be prevented from being introduced to the environment as much as possible.

Many applications and even entire industries effectively employ environmentally friendly lubricants. As previously mentioned, the marine industry is a great example of where these lubricants are utilized in different applications from hydraulics to gear systems. Also, in agriculture and forestry, there is a trend with lubricants becoming more environmentally friendly, so any leaks in the field have a much lower impact on the local ecology.  

By selecting a lubricant with the right characteristics, you can ensure your machines will function properly and keep the environment safe.

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