Illegal dumpers are costing cities across Connecticut big money and the problem could be bigger than you realize.
The Troubleshooters started asking questions after our cameras caught a cleaning crew in Wallingford dumping dirty water into a storm drain several times. It is an illegal practice, according to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
"If people dump wastewater of any kind into a storm drain or near a river or stream, that can put bacteria and contamination into our waters," said Dennis Schain, a DEEP spokesperson.
The cleaning crew was hired by a Petco store in Wallingford to clean the store and kennel floors. Apparently, store managers didn't know what Double A Cleaning was up to. DEEP wasted no time taking swift action, issuing the store and cleaning company a Notice of Violation.
In an email to DEEP, Petco said it "responded to the incident by sending out a notice to all of our floor care vendors reminding them that the proper policy is to dispose of the wastewater within the store into the sanitary sewer and never into the storm water drains."
Double A Cleaning company issued a statement to NBC Connecticut saying "it was an unfortunate incident in which a new associate did not follow proper procedure for the disposal of scrub water. It is not a policy we endorse."
The case has now been closed. Yet, illegal dumping still happens nearly every day in Hartford.
"It's expensive. It's a time consuming cost to the city and its residents, the taxpayers," said Hartford Police Department's Deputy Chief Emory Hightower.
Not only that, it strains resources and runs city crews thin. Chief Hightower says that's why the penalty for illegal dumping in his city is steep.
"Violators are faced with several days of community service cleaning up here in the city, plus the fact that they lose their vehicle. You won't have your vehicle to be able to continue to do work," Hightower said.
Violators are also being slapped with a bill to cover the cost of cleanup. The most recent offender was charged nearly $1,800 to clean up the junk he dumped in a city parking lot.
"It has to hurt. That way it'll stop people from doing it," said Hightower.
DEEP investigator Jackie Pernell has caught plenty of illegal dumpers red handed.
"They drop the back out of their truck and then take off really fast leaving the garbage behind," she said.
Holiday says they often do it for one reason.
"They don't want to pay for disposal of the material. They'd rather just dump it in the park or a city street."
It becomes a mess that taxpayers end up paying to clean up. The Department of Public Works estimated nearly $500,000 is spent cleaning up messes throughout Hartford every year. It's money the city doesn't have. It's also a double whammy for private property owners, like Curt Hawkes who end up paying for city cleanups and cleanups of his own.
"We've spent thousands of dollars cleaning up other people's trash," said Hawkes.
The back lot of Austin Organs on Woodland Street is another hot spot for illegal dumping. Hawkes says it’s becoming such a problem on the property that it's hurting business and making it hard to succeed in Hartford.
"We've been in the city since 1898, but it's disheartening when you come in and the building has had windows smashed or there's a pile of garbage that you have to clean up," he pointed out.
Hawkes would like to install a fence and cameras around the property, but says it's just not in the budget. As it turns out though, he's not the only one interested in cameras to catch dumpers.
The city wants to add several new cameras to some of its dumping hot spots to try and curb the problem. It's something at least one member of the city council is completely behind.
"We do not have the money to clean up dump sites, so we have to deal with prevention," said Councilwoman Cynthia Jennings.
Public Works admits it's an uphill battle for them, but one they plan on winning.
"If we catch them, and by golly we will try our best to catch them, we're going to have them clean this up and arrest them," said Holiday.