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Environmental Crime - The Most Common Environmental Crimes

disposal waste hazardous illegally

Environmental crimes of large corporations often have extensive coverage in the media, but crimes of smaller businesses and individuals are just as common. States and counties deal with several types of environmental crimes. The number one criminal environmental activity is the improper disposal of hazardous wastes, both by companies and individuals. Illegal hazardous waste disposal ranges from unintentional spills in vehicle accidents on highways to planned illegal disposal.

Businesses and industries generate billions of tons of hazardous waste yearly in the United States. Proper disposal is expensive and a majority of the waste is disposed of illegally to Surveyors from the EPA inspect engines and exhaust systems. (© Ted Spiegel/Corbis)
avoid these costs. Criminal haulers charge much lower prices than those operating legally.

Typical criminal disposal methods include leaving tank valves open to slowly release a hazardous liquid while driving down a highway; filling 55-gallon drums that are later left in remote areas; renting a truck, filling it with hazardous waste and abandoning it somewhere; renting a storage unit or a whole warehouse, filling it with waste drums, and leaving town; and midnight dumping. Sometimes businesses, thinking they are dealing with a licensed, legitimate hauler, will pay the hauler full price for legal disposal—only to find the hauler illegally disposed of the material and pocketed the money.

Other common state and local environment crimes are the illegal disposal of tires, construction and demolition materials, and household appliances. These crimes are so widespread because offenders are rarely caught. Illegally dumped tires often catch fire and release highly toxic substances into the air. Debris from construction sites and demolition jobs is frequently dumped alongside roads, forcing communities to clean them up. Cancer-causing asbestos fibers from insulation material and lead-based paint pose the greatest health hazard to humans.

Another common local problem is abandoned household appliances. Mercury leaks from appliances and human exposure—by breathing mercury vapors, direct skin contact, or eating or drinking contaminated food or water—can be severe. Exposure leads to nerve system damage in some people. The same is true of freon, the coolant used in refrigerators and older car air conditioners, which contains chlorine and fluorine, both toxic elements. Most states and cities have high fines if tires, building materials, and appliances are dumped illegally rather than taken to a designated landfill site.

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