Illegal dumping is disposal of waste in an unpermitted area. It is also referred to as "open dumping," "fly dumping," and "midnight dumping" because materials are often dumped in open areas, from vehicles along roadsides, and late at night. Illegally dumped wastes are primarily nonhazardous materials that are dumped to avoid either disposal fees or the time and effort required for proper disposal. These materials typically include
Wastes such as scrap tires, bulky items, and yard waste may be illegally dumped because they are banned from landfills and their proper management can be costly. Residential and commercial wastes may be illegally dumped in areas that lack or have costly pickup service.
Sites used for illegal dumping vary but may include abandoned industrial, residential, or commercial buildings; vacant lots on public or private property; and infrequently used alleys or roadways. Because of their accessibility and poor lighting, areas along rural roads and railways are particularly vulnerable. Illegal dumping can occur at any time of day but is more common at night or in the early morning hours during warmer months.
If not addressed, illegal dumps often attract more waste, potentially including hazardous wastes such as asbestos, household chemicals and paints, automotive fluids, and commercial or industrial wastes.
It is difficult to profile a "typical" illegal dumper. However, offenders can include
An individual may claim to be operating a transfer station or recycling business and accept waste at an unpermitted facility, only to abandon the facility when it reaches capacity. A resident may dump wastes that did not get picked up by local waste haulers, such as bulky items, carpeting, or household hazardous wastes. In many cases, illegal dumpers are breaking other laws relating to vehicle licensing, insurance, drug possession, or theft.
The health risks associated with illegal dumping are significant. Areas used for illegal dumping may be easily accessible to people, especially children, who are vulnerable to the physical (protruding nails or sharp edges) and chemical (harmful fluids or dust) hazards posed by wastes. Rodents, insects, and other vermin attracted to dump sites may also pose health risks. Dump sites with scrap tires provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes, which can multiply 100 times faster than normal in the warm, stagnant water standing in scrap tire casings. Severe illnesses, including encephalitis and dengue fever, have been attributed to disease-carrying mosquitoes originating from scrap tire piles. In addition, countless neighborhoods have been evacuated and property damage has been significant because of dump sites that caught fire, either by spontaneous combustion or, more commonly, by arson. Illegal dumping can impact proper drainage of runoff, making areas more susceptible to flooding when wastes block ravines, creeks, culverts, and drainage basins. In rural areas, open burning at dump sites can cause forest fires and severe erosion as fires burn away trees and undergrowth. Dumping activities in such areas can also have a negative impact on plants and wildlife. Additionally, runoff from dump sites containing chemicals may contaminate wells and surface water used as sources of drinking water.
Dump sites serve as magnets for additional dumping and other criminal activities. As a result of illegal dumping, property values decrease and the community becomes unattractive to commercial and residential developers. Without the tax revenues that accompany development, the funding available to establish and maintain effective illegal dumping prevention programs is limited. Ultimately, it is the development of areas susceptible to illegal dumping that eradicates the problem.
Finally, the costs to local government and industry associated with continuous clearing of illegally dumped waste materials are significant. Some urban areas have reported spending several million dollars per year on cleanup, hauling, and disposal activities associated with illegal dump sites. These costs may be passed along to residents in the form of higher service fees or property taxes.
Illegal dumping occurs near junkyards, active or closed landfills, solid waste transfer stations, and temporary dump areas at construction sites when dumpers want to avoid disposal fees or find that a site is closed or refuses to accept waste. Also, the presence of illegally dumped materials attracts additional dumping.
Natural disasters, particularly flooding, result in damaged appliances, wrecked furniture, and demolition debris that may lead to widespread illegal dumping. EPAs "Planning for Disaster Debris" document (EPA530-K-95-010) is available to help plan for and address these situations.
Lack of Alternative Waste Disposal and Recycling Programs
Communities lacking a contract with a waste hauler and standardized billing (by which waste removal is integrated into a water or sewer charge) may have problems with residents who refuse to pay a waste hauler for service on their own. EPAs document titled "Solid Waste Contract Negotiation Handbook" (EPA220-B-92-004) provides suggestions for establishing contracts with waste management companies, and a "Pay-as-You-Throw Toolkit" (EPA530-R-96-013) is available for communities considering volume-based disposal programs.
Preliminary research shows that communities with "pay-as-you-throw" or unit-based disposal programs do not experience continuing dumping problems. Although such a community may initially experience increased illegal dumping when new programs are launched, once the public understands the system, the problem diminishes. Maintaining educational programs is important to avoid an ongoing problem.
Lack of Solid Waste Codes and Ordinances