Fact Check: This Oil-Disposal Tip Was In Popular Science Magazine In 1963 -- But It Was NOT A Good Idea Then And It's NOT A Good Idea Now

Fact Check

  • by: Marlo Lee
Fact Check: This Oil-Disposal Tip Was In Popular Science Magazine In 1963 -- But It Was NOT A Good Idea Then And It's NOT A Good Idea Now Real Bad Idea

Did Popular Science magazine publish a tip that said disposing of used engine oil in the ground is OK in January 1963? Yes, that's true: however, it is not a good idea and should not be done, then or now. There is no need to dump used motor oil on the ground, where it soaks into soil and can make its way into groundwater. The American Petroleum Institute says that "Many service stations, repair facilities and quick lubes will accept used oil and used oil filters" for proper disposal.

The claim originated from an actual 1963 article in the magazine Popular Science (archived here). The claim based on the article was published by Facebook user ChevyHardcore on May 24, 2021, nearly six decades after it was originally published. It opened:

Disposing of used engine oil can be a problem. Solution: Dig a hole in the ground with a posthole digger and fill it with fine gravel. Then pour in the oil. It will be absorbed into the ground before your next oil change. Cover the spot with soil.

This is what the post looked like on Facebook at the time of writing:

Facebook screenshot

(Source: Facebook screenshot taken on Wed May 26 16:33:43 2021 UTC)

Lead Stories reverse-image searched the picture from the Facebook post and did not find an origin. Digging a bit deeper into Google Books, we found the full magazine, as well as the page where the tip was published. The claim only takes up one-quarter of a page, which may be why it is so difficult to find when reverse-image searching it.

The meme's caption on Facebook, "It's actually okay, because oil comes out of the ground, correct ... " has a satricial ring but anyone taking the post seriously should realize that oil dumped into the ground can create problems.

Pollution experts like the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency discourage dumping of used motor oil on two counts: 1. Motor oil can be filtered and recycled and 2. Untreated, it contains toxins.

When used motor oil is improperly disposed of, toxic substances such as benzene, lead, zinc, and cadmium can be carried into lakes, rivers or groundwater, the agency wrote in a public information sheet on the subject.

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Marlo Lee is a fact checker at Lead Stories. She is a graduate of Howard University with a B.S. in Biology. Her interest in fact checking started in college, when she realized how important it became in American politics. She lives in Maryland.

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