Every day, I’m reminded of how important it is to protect the public from environmental violations. Despite all the progress we’ve made under laws like the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, there are still people and businesses who cut corners and endanger the health of communities by misapplying pesticides, removing asbestos illegally, dumping hazardous waste in local waterways or failing to control dangerous air pollution. Our enforcement and compliance program is dedicated to holding violators accountable and protecting the communities we serve, and to do it effectively, we need your help. Just like other law enforcement programs at the local, state and federal level, we rely on tips from the public when they see something that could pose an environmental or public health threat to their community.
Our website allows anyone to report potential environmental violations, and we receive hundreds of tips every month. Reporting a tip to EPA is one of the most important ways you can be involved in protecting the environment. We take every tip from the public seriously and many have led to positive outcomes for communities across the country. Here are a few examples:
- A recent Clean Water Act case in West Virginia was aided by tips from the public about violations related to energy extraction activities. A company had illegally impounded streams and discharged sand, dirt, rocks and other pollutants into local streams and wetlands. It has since agreed to spend an estimated $6.5 million to restore the damaged areas.
- After EPA received a tip about a construction site in Idaho where pipe that contained asbestos was being removed, we learned the pipe was being crushed and buried in the ground, posing a serious threat to people nearby. Exposure to asbestos can have devastating health impacts, including lung cancer. EPA had to undertake a $4 million cleanup to remove the asbestos. Thanks to the tip, not only were the violations discovered, the project superintendent and site supervisor were held to account for their actions.
- A public tip led to the revelation that a manufacturer of machinery parts in suburban Chicago was illegally dumping wastewater that contained acids, oils and grease—all of which can have serious water quality impacts—into the local sewer system without a permit every day for a month. The company paid a $1.5 million fine for the violations and agreed to comply with applicable water pollution statutes.
In addition to pursuing the most egregious cases, we also refer tips from the public to our partners at state and local agencies, with whom we share authority to enforce the law. They often have local knowledge and experience that’s invaluable when investigating a potential environmental violation.
Last year, people took the time to report more than 2,300 potential violations to EPA, and that’s something that I’m very proud of. It shows that people care about making sure their communities are safe and healthy places to live, work and raise families. I hope the number of tips we receive from the public only continues to increase. A healthy environment depends on it.