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Illegal dumping is a problem in rural Oklahoma. State agencies are working to combat the issue

Illegal dumping damages the environment, affects human health and generally creates problems in rural spaces.
John Cameron
Illegal dumping damages the environment, affects human health and generally creates problems in rural spaces.

Open burning and illegal dumping are crimes impacting soil, water and air quality. Although people can be fined up to $5,000 for illegal dumping, it's an ongoing issue in Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality removed enough illegally disposed of waste in 2022 to cover almost 900 football fields in three feet of trash, according to the department.

The Oklahoma State University Extension Service, USDA and DEQ are hosting an environmental enforcement training for those battling the practice.

Some companies or people illegally dump garbage to avoid disposal fees or simply because it’s convenient. Chad Keller, a sergeant in the department’s criminal investigation unit, said law enforcement needs to stay vigilant on the lookout for the crime.

“It's also like a safety issue because a lot of times they're not really focused on the environment that they're around because they've got a lot of real dangerous job with some individuals,” Keller said. “But this kind of gives them this training to where if they're in that situation and they see something, then they'll remember some of this training.”

Keller said the session is an educational opportunity for law enforcement to learn how the department can assist in investigations, learn about the resources available for local enforcement and the environmental impacts of illegal dumping.

A dumpsite is not only about a trash eyesore, Keima Borsuah, an extension specialist in OSU’s Solid Waste Management Program, said it’s also about the lasting effects on natural resources.

“Especially people that rely on groundwater for drinking, some of these impacts you might not be able to see visibly, but it might tell on your water quality,” Borsuah said.

She said creating more awareness through education outreach, encouraging people to reduce their waste and trash collection events can help limit illegal dumping and open burning.

Law enforcement, tribal environmental representatives, local officials and residents are able to attend the free meeting. The information session for law enforcement is this Thursday from 8:30 a.m. - 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma County Extension Center.

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Anna Pope is a reporter covering agriculture and rural issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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