Waste crime crackdown launched by Environment Agency
A taskforce has been set up by the Environment Agency (EA) to crack down on illegal waste sites in England and Wales.
The agency says these sites can pose a real threat to human health and can damage the environment.
It is spending £5m over two years to fund the team, which includes former police detectives.
EA head Dr Paul Leinster said those involved in waste crime "should be looking over their shoulder".
He said: "Waste crime is a serious offence. The Environment Agency 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.
"We'll press for the strongest possible penalties - including prison - for those convicted of these crimes against communities."
The Environment Agency says it has identified more than 600 active illegal waste sites in England and Wales.
Waste crime in numbers
- 661 active illegal waste sites in England and Wales
- 800,000 fly-tipping incidents dealt with by local authorities
- 725 illegal dumping incidents dealt with by the Environment Agency
- 4,500 tonnes of waste prevented from being illegally exported
- 1,021 illegal waste sites closed down
- 174 sites brought into regulation so they were no longer operating without the correct licences
Source: Environment Agency, figures for 2010/11
It estimates that more than 300 of these are within 50m of schools, homes or sensitive environmental sites.'Untold damage'
The taskforce will undertake the complex investigations and legal action needed to identify the sites and close them down.
The Environment Minister for England, Lord Taylor, said the criminals behind illegal waste would be brought to justice.
He said: "These sites do untold damage to the environment and cause misery for local people that have to live with toxic fumes, noise at all hours and unbearable smells."
Waste crime falls into three categories: the illegal dumping of waste, illegal waste sites and the illegal export of waste.
During 2010/11, the Environment Agency - working with local authorities and the police - stopped, or brought into regulation, 1,195 illegal waste sites in England and Wales and pursued more than 400 waste-related prosecutions.
In the last six months alone, it was granted court orders to recoup almost £1m from offenders through the Proceeds of Crime Act.
The agency has several investigations currently under way into one of the biggest problems - the dumping of tyres.Serious disturbance
In November, Carl Steele, 33, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, was jailed after he dumped more than a million tyres at environmentally sensitive locations in Essex, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Worcestershire and Lincolnshire.
At the time Mat Crocker, head of Waste and Illegals at the Environment Agency, said: "Huge tyre dumps are not only an eyesore, but also present a serious risk to the environment and human health.
"Stockpiles are a significant fire risk, as they can burn for several years, releasing dangerous gases such as hydrogen sulphide, hydrogen cyanide and sulphur dioxide."
As well as polluting the environment, illegal waste sites can have a detrimental impact on surrounding communities in other ways.
In August, a Berkshire man was given a two-year community service order and ordered to pay almost £900,000 for running a site which had a serious, negative impact on local residents.
People living near the site suffered serious disturbance at night from powerful floodlights, noise from barking dogs and car-crushing operations.
The Welsh Minster for Environment and Sustainable Development, John Griffiths, welcomed the creation of the new taskforce.
"Responsible waste management needs to be carried out without endangering human health and the environment," he said.
"Many environmental offences have a negative impact on communities and legitimate businesses and we must ensure that illegal waste operators do not profit and the worst offenders are prosecuted."