A SPECIALIST environmental crime taskforce which will blitz illegal waste sites in England and Wales over the next two years has been set-up by the Environment Agency.
Illegal waste sites can pose a real threat to the environment, contaminating land and rivers with oil and toxic chemicals. They can also pose a risk to human health and blight communities, threatening air quality with toxic fumes from illegally burnt materials and by causing noise and odour problems from operations near homes and schools.
The Environment Agency has identified approximately 49 active illegal waste sites in the East of England and Lincolnshire. Nationally the Agency is aware of 594 active illegal sites of which it estimates that over 300 are within 50 metres of schools, homes or sensitive environmental sites. Identifying the sites and closing them can often involve complex investigations and legal action.
The new taskforce, which includes former police detectives, will work closely with enforcement partners to gather intelligence and act quickly to close illegal waste sites.
The big push announced today is part of the Environment Agency’s continued action to combat serious, organised waste crime. Increasingly, those involved in waste crime are often involved in other criminal activities such as drugs and theft.
Working closely with key partners, including local authorities and the police, the Environment Agency stopped, or brought into regulation, 1195 illegal waste sites and took 174 prosecutions during 2010/11. In the last six months the Environment Agency was granted court orders to recoup almost £1 million from offenders through the Proceeds of Crime Act.
Last month, a man from Deeping St James was jailed for dumping more than one million tyres at sites across the country. The sites were found following the Environment Agency’s initial investigation of his site near Spalding.
In Cambridgeshire, a raid at Cophall farm near Little Downham, Ely in 2009 resulted in a prison sentence in September this year for a father and his two sons for running an illegal scrap metal yard.
A man who used land in Colchester to illegally store scrap metal was fined £10,000 in June.
Environment Minister Lord Taylor said: “These illegal waste sites do untold damage to the environment and cause misery for local people that have to live with toxic fumes, noise at all hours and unbearable smells.
“We are cracking down on those sites that blight our communities and will work with the police and other partners to bring the criminals behind them to justice.”
The Welsh Minster for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths, said: “Environment Agency Wales has been at the forefront of tackling waste crime and I welcome the creation of this taskforce.
“Responsible waste management needs to be carried out without endangering human health and the environment. Many environmental offences have a negative impact on communities and legitimate businesses and we must ensure that illegal waste operators do not profit and the worst offenders are prosecuted.”
Environment Agency Chief Executive, Dr Paul Leinster, said: “Waste crime is a serious offence that poses a risk to human health and can damage the environment. The Environment Agency is working with all enforcement agencies to stamp it out. If you’re involved in illegal waste activities, you should be looking over your shoulder and expecting a visit from our enforcement officers.
“The Environment Agency relies on members of the public and legitimate businesses to help us identify the culprits. They can call us or Crimestoppers with information. And we’ll press for the strongest possible penalties - including prison - for those convicted of these crimes against communities.”
Anyone with information about suspected illegal waste operators should call the Environment Agency’s incident helpline on 0800-807060 or call Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800-555-111.