about 15 of them shot," Anderson said. "In every case, we've been able to put them back together again."

Keeping Things Clean

Rockford, Ill., experienced similar results to those in Pittsburg, leading city officials to consider more widespread use of the cameras.

Rockford Public Works Director William Bittner said the city has several locations where residents can legally dispose of trash and hazardous waste that isn't picked up by the city's curbside disposal service. Those same sites, he said, are also often targets of illegal, after-hours dumping.

"One of the sites gets a lot of tire dumping even though it's not a tire-dumping site," Bittner said. "We've discovered who's done it, and in some cases taken action."

Rockford Public Works officials have discussed using the cameras as "dummies" for their deterrent effect, Bittner said, which can be especially helpful in legal dumping sites where illegal waste is dumped after hours.

Illegal Dumping Costs

Besides reducing urban blight, the real payoff for putting a stop to illegal dumping is dollars and cents.

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Region 5, covering the Great Lakes states, developed the Illegal Dumping Economic Assessment model under its Illegal Dumping Prevention Project as an aid for city and county agencies to track costs.

"Some urban areas have reported spending several million dollars per year on cleanup, hauling and disposal activities associated with illegal dump sites," the project's guidebook states. "These costs may be passed on to residents in the form of higher service fees or property taxes."

Actual costs in California are difficult to pinpoint. Roni Java, a California Integrated Waste Management Board (IWMB) public information officer, said there's no definitive source for tracking illegal dumping expenses. This is because they can overlap budgets, from public works to environmental health, with interdepartmental stops in between.

"We don't have any figures on it," Java said. "We started trying to get a handle on it last year -- it turns out there isn't anyone who really knows."

During fiscal 2004-2005, the IWMB awarded more than $3.8 million in grants to remediate illegal dumping in California, and $1.4 million for anti-dumping enforcement programs. In addition, more than $735,000 went to cleaning dumping sites and more than $920,000 was awarded for cleanup of farm and ranch land.

Grants, however, don't accurately reflect the actual cost, since they may be only a small percentage of the amount needed, Java said.

Illegal dumping also poses health risks. Sites at which tires are dumped provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry diseases such as encephalitis and dengue fever because of the moisture that collects inside the tires, according to the EPA. Fires -- from spontaneous combustion or arson -- create toxic fumes and pollute the air. In addition, the EPA said dump-site runoff can contaminate well water and groundwater, and the debris at dump sites can clog drainage basins, leading to flooding.

West Nile virus is also a big concern, Java said, adding that when illegal dumping sites are above ground and not on fire, they're an ideal haven for rattlesnakes, bees and rodents.

Fines imposed by California for illegal dumping can be as high as $10,000. Violators may also be liable for local penalties, as well as cleanup and abatement costs.

"Illegal dumping is very widespread," said Wright. "It can absolutely ruin a community. It's not fair to residents in a community to have people come through and dump stuff. It's unsanitary and it's unsightly."

Dave Moseley  |  Contributing Writer