The Car Wash Association (CWA) is urging officials to act to improve car washing standards with the launch of a national campaign to raise awareness of the major problems affecting the industry.

The new campaign is aimed at MPs, central government departments and local authorities, as well as consumers using car washing facilities to encourage them to consider the implications of using hand car washing sites.

According to industry figures, there has been a huge growth in hand car wash operations in England and Wales – from almost none to 16,000 in the 10 years to 2008. Of these, CWA believes that around 80% are failing to comply with industry guidelines and regulations.

CWA spokesman Michael Harris said: “CWA estimates that each year rogue car wash sites are illegally discharging an incredible 2.7 billion litres of trade effluent containing chemicals down rainwater drains rather than the correct foul-water drains. This is the equivalent to the contents of more than 77,000 road fuel-tankers. Most of this is being done without the legally required consent or trade effluent agreements, and is therefore likely to be causing contamination and pollution.”

In addition to the potential environmental impact, CWA claims another problem relates to the risks to members of the public using car washing facilities that may be in breach of insurance and health and safety regulations. The CWA is also concerned by employment practices of site staff and their health and safety, as well as local authority planning regulations.

“Most people probably choose their car washing service for convenience or cost reasons, but are unaware of the problems within the industry,” said Harris. “Aside from the very clear environmental issues, we have observed that a significant number of these operations are not abiding by the correct employment and business regulations – including that of public liability insurance, which protects the consumer if something goes wrong.

“The CWA is aware that many of these sites are not conforming to planning regulations to operate car washing facilities at their locations. We have witnessed instances throughout the country where the law is being openly flouted with incorrect infrastructures and equipment being used – porous ground surfaces and rainwater drains, for example, along with non-biodegradable cleaning substances.”

Harris added: “If these operations are failing to comply in these areas, how can we also be sure that they are abiding by other business requirements with regards to rates and taxes, employment and insurance? Members of the public deserve to be aware of these issues, so they can make a more informed choice when it comes to cleaning their car. It’s time for urgent action to tackle these illegal activities.”