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Tougher Laws Clean Up Illegal Dumping
By Laura Martin
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Reports of illegal dumping in the state have decreased during the past few years because of tougher laws and an increase in environmental awareness among residents.
To prevent improper waste disposal, the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality accepts complaints from individuals who witness illegal dumping. Callers can submit the complaint anonymously or leave their name.
"During the past three to four years, we received an average of 450 complaints each year," said Conrad Stacks, MDEQ compliance section chief for non-hazardous waste. "During the three to four years prior to that, we received an average of 1,000 to 1,500 complaints each year."
Mississippi cracked down on this illegal activity in 1994 by raising the penalty on unauthorized dumping. As stated in Section 97-15-30 of the Mississippi Code, dumping waste for economic gain or if it weighs more than 500 pounds is a felony punishable by a $500 to $50,000 fine, five years in prison or both.
The law penalizes people who unlawfully dispose of non-hazardous and hazardous waste along the roads, in waters of the state or on private property unless the property owner has given written consent. Disposal on private property must not create a public nuisance or be in violation of other state laws.
According to the law, dumping material not exceeding 15 pounds in weight is littering, a misdemeanor with a penalty of $50 to $250. Dumping items weighing 15 to 500 pounds is also a misdemeanor carrying a fine of $100 to $1,000, imprisonment for up to two years or both.
The attorney general or district attorney may prosecute for any of these charges. The MDEQ offers support to the attorney general through witnesses. The agency also has the authority to order the individual or company that did the dumping to clean the site and request they pay up to $25,000 per day in fines.
The establishment of garbage collection requirements in all counties and increased awareness of environmental issues are two reasons for the drop in complaints, Stacks said.
Marianne Clark, Mississippi State University Extension Service's 4-H youth agent for Grenada County, emphasizes youth education as an important factor in increasing awareness. Youth notice pollution around them and get involved in clubs to help the environment, she said.
"The environmental club is working to make sure that our youth become educated and take action against pollution," Clark said.
Dr. Jimmy Bonner, assistant specialist and water quality coordinator with the MSU Extension Service, said hazardous wastes are a problem in the state because Mississippi doesn't have a licensed hazardous waste disposal facility.
"Any hazardous product that is not disposed of properly has the chance to negatively affect water quality, wildlife and human health," Bonner said. "Improper disposal is anything that is not consistent with its label. If a hazardous product is not used up entirely, it becomes a hazardous waste. Then we have a disposal problem."
Individuals can tell if a product is hazardous by the words caution, warning, danger or poison on the label, Bonner said.
To provide homeowners an opportunity to dispose of household hazardous wastes, the MDEQ offers a grant program to communities that are willing to host a collection event.
"The grant program is set up in Mississippi for cities, counties, municipalities and joint county agencies to hold an event," said David Peacock, MDEQ administrator of the Resource Conservancy and Recovery Act branch in the hazardous waste division. "The one-day event is held by the host community for homeowners to bring and dispose of household hazardous wastes, including paints, used oil, pesticides and drain cleaners. Most events allow individuals to bring old tires and used car batteries."
Most of the hazardous waste material can be recycled, including used car batteries and oil, paints and some flammable materials, Peacock said. Good paints are given to organizations for use in projects and unusable paints are burned as a fuel additive.
"The success of the events depends on how well the community advertises, but we have not noticed a decrease in turnout," he said. The MDEQ hosts 18 to 20 such events each year in the state.
For more information on household hazardous waste collection events, contact David Peacock at (601) 961-5171.