A few weeks ago, my friend Carlos told me that during a road trip with his family this summer he saw something suspicious coming out of a chemical plant. Allegedly, it was some sort of yellowish foam being discharged through the effluent into the creek next to the plant.
“Did you report it?” I asked Carlos immediately. He looked at me surprised and said, “Who would I report that to? I don’t think the 911 emergency number would take that type of call.”
Carlos’ response made me realize that unfortunately not everybody knows how they can help EPA to stop environmental violations, or at least, report them. I took advantage of the occasion to let Carlos know that EPA welcomes the assistance from the general public in identifying and reporting suspicious activities that could affect public health and the environment.
Although many industries may have permits that allow them to legally discharge wastewaters into rivers of the US, that doesn’t mean that all we see coming out of their effluents is necessarily a legal discharge.
And we’re not only talking about suspicious discharges into bodies of water, but also about activities that might make us think that something weird is going on, such as strong, unusual chemical odors, abandoned barrels, trucks unloading in out-of the-way places at odd hours, or other signs of possible environmental violations.
If you see something suspicious, allow EPA’s experts to conduct the pertinent investigation to determine whether the activity in indeed legal or whether it would be prudent to find out more information. And if you don’t want to provide your contact information, you can report the potential violation anonymously.
Every member of the public can help the EPA to protect human health and the environment. Thousands of reports of potential criminal and civil violations of environmental regulations are received every year through the website. Sixty-one criminal cases have been opened as a result of the “tips” received. Have you witnessed a potential environmental violation in your community or workplace? Take action and report it!
About the author: Reiniero (“Rey”) Rivera started working for the EPA in 1987 as an environmental engineer in the Chicago regional office and currently works in the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in Washington DC.