What are hydrocarbons?


  • Are organic compounds that are made up of carbon-hydrogen bonds

  • Have a wide variety of structures and functions, some of which can be considered pollutants of concern

  • Can be petroleum hydrocarbon pollutants such as gasoline, oils, and grease

  • Can be Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) which are formed by burning coal, gasoline and fuel oil

Why should I care?

Some hydrocarbon pollutants, such as PAHs, can result in negative health impacts to humans and wildlife.

How do hydrocarbon pollutants enter our lakes and streams?

Potential sources for hydrocarbon pollutants include:

  • Vehicle use and maintenance

  • Disposal of used oil and other fluids on the ground

  • Spills of oil or gasoline from vehicles

  • Runoff from residential car washing

  • Vehicle exhaust

  • Leaching from coal-tar sealants used on paved roads and parking lots

Most petroleum hydrocarbon pollutants are transported by stormwater runoff, which washes the contaminants from roads, driveways, and parking lots into the nearest storm drain or stream. However, some of these pollutants also enter the water via motorized watercraft.

What can I do to help?

  • Reduce your vehicle use in the watershed and carpool, take the bus, or ride your bike!

  • When your car is dirty, take your car to a commercial car wash

  • Collect any vehicle fluid spills and dispose of them properly

  • Follow boat maintenance tips in Boatnotes