Everyone has seen an illegal dump at one time or another: a pile of abandoned tires, an old car rusting away, or maybe a heap of broken appliances lying in a forgotten gully. But what may seem like a time-honored and economical practice actually poses a real threat to the health and safety of people everywhere, not to mention the adverse effects it can have on the environment and local wildlife.
In many cases, illegal dumps occur because it's difficult to dispose of the items. Bulky furniture, cars and appliances are refused by many trash removal services, while other items like yard waste, tires and construction debris may be banned from landfills and local dumps. Rather than seeking out legitimate means to safely dispose of these items, some people leave them lying around or find an out-of-the-way spot to deposit them.
So what's the harm? Well, you might be surprised to learn all the damage that illegal dumps do. Apart from the obvious dangers such as sharp edges, rusty metal and leaking chemicals, illegal dumps also create fire hazards. They can block drainage, leading to flooding and severe erosion. They attract vermin and create an ideal breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. And runoff from these dumps can contaminate local wells and surface waters, exposing friends and neighbors to dangerous toxins.
Illegal dumps also lower property values and discourage businesses from developing the area. Local governments spend millions each year cleaning up these dumps, funds that could be spent on schools and parks.
But the news isn't all bad. Last week, the state of Illinois took an important step toward eliminating illegal dumps. Governor Pat Quinn signed into law House Bill 2001 which makes illegal dumping a felony, punishable with fines of up to $25,000. During the signing Governor Quinn said, "Illegal dump sites can pose serious hazards to neighborhoods and entire communities. We need the help of Illinois residents to prevent illegal dumping, and I encourage people throughout the state to participate in keeping their communities safe."
And community organizations are stepping up. In East St. Louis, a neighborhood coalition called New Spirit organized volunteer Community Cleanup Days which have already eliminated more than 166,000 tons of waste from inner city neighborhoods.
Photo: Patrick Denker/Flickr