Illegal dumping complaints on the rise

DNREC’s Environmental Crimes Unit recently released statistics on its investigations into violations of Delaware’s air, waste and water pollution laws for the first six months of 2008. Enforcement officers handled a total of 1,958 complaints statewide, with illegal dumping complaints up 11 percent over the same period last year.

“Dumping garbage and waste is illegal everywhere in Delaware except in a permitted landfill,” said Chief William “Chip” McDaniel of DNREC Enforcement. “Illegal dumping poses significant hazards to public health and the environment and creates an eyesore that detracts from our state’s natural beauty. Delaware’s new legislation will go a long way to help deter illegal dumping and punish violators.”

The new legislation, Senate Bill 309, which was signed into law by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner on June 21, raises the minimum fine for a first offense for illegal dumping to $500 and provides landowners with a cause of action for damages from solid waste illegally dumped on their properties. The legislation may be especially helpful in addressing sporadic or isolated instances of illegal dumping that adversely affect innocent landowners.

“Some people wrongfully assume that if others have already dumped at a certain location, then it must be a legal place to dispose of waste,” continued McDaniel. “We want citizens to know that illegal dumping is a flagrant violation of the law and that we have doubled proactive patrols to investigate possible violations. Digital surveillance cameras will also be installed at some dump sites to help identify and prosecute offenders.”

In addition to increased fines for illegal dumping, the new legislation raises the minimum fine from $50 to $100 for the first offense of minor environmental regulations, including fines for open burning, un-permitted wastewater discharges and un-permitted septic and well installations, and adds the cost of a permit to the fine, if the violation includes an activity without the appropriate permit. For each subsequent offense, the fine increases from $500 to $1,500.

During the first six months of 2008, illegal open burning was the top complaint, with 326 calls to the 24-hour complaint line. Open burning is banned statewide during ozone season (May 1 through Sept. 30) to protect public health, because during spring and summer months, high temperatures and sunlight combine with pollution to form ground-level ozone. High levels of ozone can cause respiratory problems, especially for children, seniors and people with asthma and other respiratory ailments.

Other complaints included: 269 water-related discharges; 255 spills; 222 illegal dumping; 159 air-related releases; 144 permit checks; and 26 idling vehicle violations. The officers conducted 416 proactive patrol checks, targeting violations of the state’s open burning, illegal dumping and idling regulations, resulting in 49 enforcement actions. In addition, four fugitives were apprehended with outstanding warrants from other police departments.

The following is the breakdown of the January through June 2008 statistics:

Total Complaints: 1,958

By County: New Castle, 1,119; Kent, 388; Sussex, 451.

Total Enforcement Actions: 109

By County: New Castle, 42; Kent, 24; Sussex, 43.

DNREC’s Environmental Enforcement Officers receive complaints through the toll-free, 24-hours Environmental Complaint Line, at 1-800-662-8802. Verizon Wireless customers in Delaware can reach the complaint line by calling #367 on their cell phones. For more information, contact Chief William McDaniel at (302) 739-9401.