The Consequences of Illegal Dumping and Littering
Illegal Dumping and Littering
Most states have a department of environmental quality or something akin to it that addresses illegal dumping and littering and the ramifications that go along with it. For instance, Illinois’ Environmental Protection Agency addresses everything from safe disposal of pharmaceuticals and medical sharps to electronic waste recycling to waste disposal.
Illegal dumping occurs for a variety of reasons, but none are acceptable:
- Lack of convenient alternatives
- Increased disposal costs
- Lack of public awareness
- Lack of understanding of laws
Health and the Environment are at Risk
Regardless of the reason, the side effects of illegal dumping are very real. The EPA partners with other state departments in an effort to prevent illegal dumping because of the potential threat to public health and the environment. Illegal dumping goes by a variety of names, including fly dumping, open dumping, midnight dumping.
But whatever the name, the risks are numerous:
- Encephalitis and Dengue fever are both attributed to disease-carrying mosquitoes that thrive in open dumping areas, especially ones where tires are present.
- Fire is a risk due to spontaneous combustion of dangerous materials or through arson.
- Illegal dumping can impact drainage, which lead to flooding or severe erosion.
- Chemicals contaminate wells and surface water.
- Property values decrease.
Simply put, illegal dumping and littering diminishes the quality of life for those in the surrounding area. Whether it’s old barrels, used tires, garbage or hazardous chemicals, it all poses a threat.
In most cases, littering (throwing candy wrappers out of a car window) is considered a minor offense while illegal dumping (unloading furniture, car tires, construction debris) is considered a more serious offense, which could result in jail time and large fines.
By some estimates, there is as much as 100 million tons of materials that have been illegally dumped throughout the U.S. It represents a major problem that can be prevented by stopping small dumping from occurring. Stopping the small illegal dumps from becoming larger helps to avoid a costly mess.
Illegal dumping is a preventable problem that is addressed with money from taxpayers that should be put to use in other areas, including education and public programs that improve communities. For instance, Pennsylvania taxpayers drop around $10 million a year on programs to clean up roadside litter and illegal dump sites. The U.S. EPA will in some cases help communities fight illegal dumping with special grants, like the $30,000 grant provided to the Coral Bay Community Council of St. John in the Virgin Islands.
Strict punishments in the way of fines and possible jail time have been put in place to stem the problem. Fines can be as low as $50 for minor offenses in some states, yet jump up to tens of thousands of dollars for more serious situations. Furthermore, it can be a felony offense.
Big corporations are just as much to blame as residential and small commercial perpetrators. In 2014, AT&T agreed to pay $52 million for illegally dumping electronic waste in its class action settlement in California. The case revealed that AT&T has 230 warehouses and facilities throughout California that for nine years had been improperly disposed of batteries, hazardous liquids and gels.
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