The Environment Agency has announced it has set up a specialist environmental crime taskforce, which aims to blitz illegal waste sites in England and Wales over the next two years
The Environment Agency (EA) has identified approximately 600 active illegal waste sites in England and Wales - and it estimates that over 300 of these sites are within 50 metres of schools, homes or sensitive environmental sites. Identifying the sites and closing them can often involve complex investigations and legal action.
The new taskforce, which includes former police detectives, will work closely with enforcement partners to gather intelligence and act quickly to close illegal waste sites. The taskforce will be supported by up to £5m of Environment Agency funding for the first two years.
The big push is part of the Environment Agency's continued action to combat serious, organised waste crime. Increasingly, those involved in waste crime are often involved in other criminal activities such as drugs and theft, according to the EA.
In the last six months the Environment Agency was granted court orders to recoup almost £1m from offenders through the Proceeds of Crime Act and brought into regulation 1195 illegal waste sites and took over 400 waste-related prosecutions during 2010/11.
Environment Minister Lord Taylor said: "We are cracking down on those sites that blight our communities and will work with the police and other partners to bring the criminals behind them to justice."
Environment Agency chief executive, Dr Paul Leinster, said: "Waste crime is a serious offence that poses a risk to human health and can damage the environment. The EA is working with all enforcement agencies to stamp it out. If you're involved in illegal waste activities, you should be looking over your shoulder and expecting a visit from our enforcement officers.
"The Environment Agency relies on members of the public and legitimate businesses to help us identify the culprits. They can call us or Crimestoppers with information. And we'll press for the strongest possible penalties - including prison - for those convicted of these crimes against communities."
Anyone with information about suspected illegal waste operators should call the Environment Agency's incident helpline on 0800 807060 or call Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.