How to Recognize and Report Environmental Crimes
Voter Info | September 7, 2016
An environmental violation can be broadly defined as an illegal act that harms the environment or endangers public health. Just like other illegal acts, environmental offenses violate federal, state or local law. New York State has many laws within the Environmental Conservation Law (ECL) designed to protect the communities, environment and health of its residents.
As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, environmental violations can be categorized as “criminal,” “civil” or “clean-up enforcement” offenses. To learn more about these categories, visit the EPA’s website.
Generally, activities that have or may eventually have a negative effect on human health, harm a community, or the environment, could be environmental offenses as defined by environmental law.
What are some examples of environmental violations?
- Improper waste disposal
- Improper transportation of hazardous materials
- Oil spills
- Destruction of wetlands or any ecosystem/habitat
- Dumping into oceans, streams, lakes, or rivers
- Improperly handling pesticides or other toxic chemicals
- Burning garbage
- Improperly removing and disposing of asbestos
- Smuggling certain chemicals (especially ozone depleting chemicals), such as CFC refrigerants, into the U.S
- Illegal wildlife trade of endangered species
- Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and hunting
- Illegal logging
- Illegal property development
How Do You Recognize an Environmental Violation?
- Strong, offensive or unusual chemical odors
- Foul smelling or strange looking emissions wafting into the air.
- Large numbers of dead animals, including birds or fish
- Pipes or valves that do not connect with waste water treatment systems
- Tank trucks discharging their contents into drains, manholes or surface waters
- Oily slicks or visible sheens on the ground or on bodies of water
- Corroded, leaking waste containers
- Barrels, drums or other containers that appear to be abandoned or dumped in out-of-the-way places, especially if they are corroded or leaking.
- Discolored and/or stressed, dying plant life.
If you see something, say something!
If you think you’re witnessing an environmental violation, make a note of your location and if possible, take pictures or make a video. The more information you can provide to authorities, the better. Of course, do not gather any evidence that will involve putting yourself in danger.
If you think a violation is occurring, your first point of contact is New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). DEC maintains its own specialized force of environmental police officers, known as Environmental Conservation Officers (or ECOs). ECOs focus specifically on enforcing New York’s environmental laws, including those relating to environmental quality, hunting, fishing and trapping and protection of natural resources.
The DEC divides New York State into nine regions, each with ECOs that you can contact directly. If you see signs of possible criminal activity, contact your local ECO immediately. He or she will take it from there. Find your local ECO here.
If you can’t get a hold of your ECO, you can also call the DEC Dispatch Center at 1-877-457-5680 or e-mail them at dispatch[at]gw.dec.state.ny.us.
If you think you are witnessing an emergency or a situation that requires an immediate response, call the DEC’s 24-hour anonymous TIPP (“Turn In Poachers and Polluters”) HOTLINE: 1-800-TIPP DEC (847-7332). Of course, if your or another person’s health is at risk in an emergency situation, call your local police by dialing 911.
Citizens may also report potential violations to the DEC by completing this online complaint form: Report an Environmental Violation Online
While reporting to the DEC is easy and effective, there are several other places you can also contact to bring attention to environmental hazards, including your local District Attorney’s office, the Office of the New York State Attorney General, and others. Here’s who else you can reach out to:
State & Local Police
Citizens can always contact their state and local law enforcement officials to report crimes and other suspicious activity. Contact your New York local law enforcement agency or visit this New York State Troop Map which will link you to the appropriate Troop contact information. You can also anonymously report a crime by emailing crimetip[at]troopers.nyc.gov. You can also call1-866-SAFENYS (1-866-723-3697), the statewide hotline. New York City residents dial 1-888-NYCSAFE (1-888-692-7233).
District Attorney Offices
You may also report a potential violation to your county’s District Attorney’s office. District Attorneys prosecute crimes (including environmental crimes) that take place within the jurisdiction of their county lines. To find your county’s district attorney, visit the District Attorneys Association of the State of New York’s “District Attorney Roster.”
The Office of the New York State Attorney General
The Office of the Attorney General prosecutes state-level crimes and has a unit dedicated to environmental violations: the Environmental Protection Bureau. Citizens can file complaints about environmental violations by filling out their complaint form here: Attorney General Complaint Forms. Or you may contact the Bureau by phone at: (518) 776-2400.
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The EPA is the nation’s leading agency on environmental matters. The agency works with state and local governments to control and prevent pollution in areas of solid and hazardous waste, pesticides, water, air, drinking water and toxic and radioactive substances. EPA has the power to require clean up and issue fines to law-breaking polluters.
The EPA is divided into 10 regional offices. New York is part of EPA Region 2. Citizens can report suspected violations online here: Report an Environmental Violation, or by calling (212) 637-4050. For an emergency that could endanger the public health, call the EPA’s National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.
It’s the job of elected officials to listen to the needs of their constituents and communities, and often they can help fast-track a resolution to an environmental problem. Your elected officials are more reachable than you think! Click on the links below to find out who represents you and how you can contact them:< Back to Citizen’s Toolkit
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© 2017 New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund. All rights reserved.