The state is doing more this year to help combat the ongoing problem of illegal dumping. The Department of Environmental Quality recently awarded grant funding to six counties with some of the worst cases. Last year, just two agencies benefited from the Community Based Environmental Protection Project, compared to just one the year before that.
Canadian County is one of the new recipients, and the sheriff’s office investigates more than 1,000 dump sites a year within its jurisdiction. The problem is not just the eyesore of dump sites; they also pose a serious environmental hazard.
Deputy Jacob Briggs, Canadian County’s environmental investigator, says just about every time he cleans up a site, new trash appears. He sees everything from furniture and carpet, to tires and tree branches, to potentially dangerous oil cans and aerosol bottles filled with chemicals. He explains, “Over time as all the elements break all these items down and they start leaking into the ground, the rain comes down, you’re going to have all this stuff absorbing down in the ground, and if it makes it to that water table, now we have a real issue.”
Plus, many of the dump sites are close to creeks, making it even easier for those harsh chemicals to end up in the drinking water supply.
That is why the DEQ is awarding thousands of dollars to these agencies that apply for the grant funding. The money is collected through solid waste fees and pays for each awarded agency's investigator plus resources like gloves and hidden cameras, which can be vital in catching the culprits.
Oftentimes, however, Briggs says the dumpers leave their own paper trail. “Every trash dumping tells a story about the people we’re going to come in contact,” says Briggs, “whether it’s an overdue bill or a bill to a certain facility or whatnot. It kind of just prepares us to know what we’re going to be dealing with before we go knock on the door.”
Illegal dumping penalties range from a $200 fine to thousands of dollars, depending on the severity, but Briggs says his favorite punishment is community service, taking the time to educate the person responsible while they help clean up dump sites across the county. He says most of the time, they did not even realize the hazards they caused. “Almost 99.9% of the time after we’re done they all say the same thing, ‘I am never doing this again.’”
Briggs says if you do not know the proper place to dump something, call your local law enforcement agency or the DEQ to ask.
If you see someone illegally dumping or come across a dump site, Briggs advises you not to take action on your own. Instead, get the best description you can of the site and any potential suspects you see, then call your local agency to report it.