Help Us Protect Our Lakes by Reporting Illegal Dumping


What is illegal dumping?

Illegal dumping is when someone disposes waste or other materials in a place they’re not supposed to – like the storm sewer. Sometimes it’s intentional, and sometimes it’s an accident, like with a leaky dumpster. Our website has a list of many types of materials we see contaminating the environment, but a few of the most common include:

  • Automotive Fluids: Illegal dumping of motor oil or antifreeze or vehicles that are leaking fluid.
  • Waste Water: Water that was dumped into the gutter from things like mopping and carpet cleaning.
  • Concrete Waste: Wastewater from concrete truck chutes, water used for tool clean up, or dried residue in the gutter. Concrete waste is especially dangerous because it takes 10,000 gallons of rainwater to neutralize one gallon of concrete waste.
  • Used Cooking Oil: Spills from tipped over storage drums and containers filled beyond capacity.

Dumping is not allowed in storm sewers, ditches, gutters, or storm water ponds. We investigate dumping and stains from dumping or spills to find out what the contaminant was, who is responsible, and to correct the threat (if there is one).

Illegal dumping has a dangerous impact on our environment, including our rivers, creeks, lakes, and drinking water.

When someone dumps waste or other materials, they’re carried—untreated—into the nearest waterway when it rains.

Here are a few examples of why this is a problem:

  • Concrete waste, ammonia, degreasers, and other cleansers can discharge from a storm sewer at concentrations that are high enough to kill some organisms outright.
  • Dumpster leachate (what leaks out of a dumpster) and carpet cleaning wastewater use up oxygen as they are broken down by bacteria. Rain carries those nutrients into our waterways. These nutrients act just like fertilizer that support algae growth. We see more toxic, blue-green algae blooms, which are dangerous to people and deadly to dogs and other animals.
  • Other types of waste can cause long-lasting damage to plant and animal life and their ecosystem.

Will I know illegal dumping when I see it?

Some types of illegal dumping are easy to spot:

  • Flowing concrete waste in the gutter, or a stain indicating concrete has entered a storm drain.
  • Wastewater from carpet cleaning. Carpet cleaners are not allowed to discharge any liquid to the gutter, “clean” or otherwise.
  • Discharges of foam are not allowed. Any water containing visible foam in other than trace amounts, should be reported.
  • Liquids leaking out of garbage dumpsters at commercial facilities.
  • Anyone pouring liquid into a gutter or storm drain.
  • Anyone washing painting tools in the gutter, or stains that show this happened.

Here are a few examples:

Liquids are leaking out of this dumpster.
Liquids are leaking out of this dumpster.
Stain indicating concrete waste entering the storm sewer.
Stain indicating concrete waste entering the storm sewer.
Using a hose to spray waste into a gutter.
Using a hose to spray waste into a gutter.
Improper storage of chemicals outside.
Improper storage of chemicals outside.
Carpet cleaning wastewater being dumped into a storm drain.
Carpet cleaning wastewater being dumped into a storm drain.

Do you punish the person or company involved with illegal dumping?

  • For an individual: In general, we focus on providing education if a person is acting alone. This means we tell them how to dispose of waste properly and how illegal dumping hurts our environment. If someone has repeated violations or it is a major offense, we refer the complaint to city or county lawyers for legal action.
  • For a business: We handle complaints about businesses differently because there is a greater potential for repeat violations. We send certain types of businesses with a higher probability of violations (carpet cleaners, pressure washers, restaurant vent cleaners, concrete contractors, lawn care businesses) an annual letter describing best management practices for disposing of waste and the consequences of not following these practices. Because we give ample warning and education, we consider these violations deliberate actions and issue a ticket or, in exceptional cases, refer them to city or county lawyers for legal action.

Reporting Concerns or Possible Violations

You can report any possible violations in Dane County to us.

Anyone can report a concern or possible violation. We have the authority to address threats to surface water quality in Madison and Dane County.  We’ll ask for some basic details about what happened, like a description of what you saw and when.

Reporting possible violations is easy, either by online form or by phone.

To report a concern, fill out an online report or call (608) 266-4821.

This content is free for use with credit to Public Health Madison & Dane County .

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