Illegal dumping creates ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Once they inhabit these dumping sites and reproduce, the spread of West Nile virus can begin. Here are a few things you should know about the problem of illegal dumping and ways that you can help.
The Price of Illegal Dumping in Pennsylvania
Illegal dumpsites can be found in every Pennsylvania county. According to the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful (KPB) organization, there were 6,500 illegal dumpsites in Pennsylvania at last count. The costs associated with the cleanup of dumping sites usually falls on PA taxpayers rather than those responsible for this illegal and unnecessary activity. Cleanups conducted by local municipalities average about $600 per ton, or roughly $3,000 per site. KPB reports that a 2020 study found that nine Pennsylvania cities paid $68.5 million annually to deal with litter and dumping.
Pennsylvania residents also bear the cost of illegal dumping in other ways. Illegal dumping:
- Creates eyesores in our communities - negatively impacting property values and quality of life
- Contaminates our soil, surface, and groundwater
- Causes injury to Pennsylvania wildlife from sites that include building materials with broken glass and rusting metal
- Attracts unwanted disease-spreading rodents and mosquitoes
The Litter at Dumping Sites Provides an Ideal Breeding Ground for Mosquitoes
The tiny mosquito is considered the most dangerous animal in the world due to its ability to rapidly multiply and spread diseases to people and animals. The thousands of tires that are dumped illegally in Pennsylvania every year, and the rainwater which accumulates in them, provides a very favorable breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquitoes can multiply quickly in the warm stagnant water found in scrap tires. And the amount of water doesn’t have to be significant; a cupful size amount of water in tires can breed thousands of mosquitoes.
“The mosquitoes in Pennsylvania that are responsible for spreading diseases are the species that reproduce inside dumped containers,” said DEP aquatic biologist supervisor Matt Helwig. In addition to tires, other pieces of litter that hold stagnant water at these sites include containers, abandoned automobiles, auto parts, appliances, furniture, yard waste, and household trash. All of which are prime breeding spots for mosquitoes.
Most times mosquito bites are just an itchy nuisance, but in some cases, a mosquito bite can lead to health issues like West Nile virus.
West Nile Virus
West Nile virus (WNV) is an infectious disease that first appeared in Pennsylvania in 2000. The principal way people contract West Nile virus is through the bite of an infected mosquito. Jennifer Stough, a Water Program specialist at DEP, describes the general symptoms of West Nile virus as flu-like symptoms that last for a short period of time, but can be detrimental in people who are older or those who have compromised immune systems. While less than 1% of people infected with WNV will become very sick, those who do can face severe symptoms which can range from high fever and headache to paralysis and coma. Effects on the brain and nervous system may be permanent. WNV can also be fatal. It’s estimated that over 2,400 people in the United States have died of WNV since it was first detected here.
We can all do our part to help prevent mosquitoes from breeding and in so doing, cut down the number of cases of WNV. To keep mosquitoes from breeding around your home, get rid of any sources of standing water around your home and property. Pennsylvanians can also help try to slow the spread of WNV by reporting heavy mosquito sightings using DEP’s mosquito complaint form.
West Nile Virus Control Program
To help detect, track, and control the virus, the Pennsylvania departments of Health, Environmental Protection, and Agriculture developed the West Nile Virus Control Program. A comprehensive network consisting of state, regional, and county personnel, covering all 67 counties in the commonwealth was created. This network conducts mosquito surveillance and dead bird collections, and monitors for the occurrence of West Nile virus in horses and humans. Mosquito control activities are implemented as required. DEP, with the support of the legislature, provides funding to at-risk counties to protect against disease, control public nuisances, and clean up mosquito habitat.
County mosquito control programs such as those in: Berks, Lancaster, Lebanon, Westmoreland, and York counties, have organized tire collections and litter cleanups over the years, collecting and recycling over 15,000 tires as well as eliminating illegally dumped debris in urban centers. Since 2018, Lebanon County has held a tire collection and collected approximately 2,500 waste tires every year. York, Berks, Bucks, Chester, and Lancaster Counties employ larval control technicians that are dedicated to performing larval surveillance and control, mosquito education, and cleanup efforts in the cities of York, Reading, West Chester, and Lancaster.
For more information on the West Nile Virus Control Program in Pennsylvania, please visit Pennsylvania's West Nile Virus Control Program website.
Another important step we can all take to slow the spread of WNV is to report illegal dumping.
Report Illegal Dumping to Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful
Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful is not just a slogan, it’s an organization dedicated to helping keep our communities clean and beautiful. Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, with support from DEP, has launched the IllegalDumpFreePA Program to help local government and local law enforcement officials curb illegal dumping by exposing those who commit this crime. KPB has a surveillance camera loan program available to municipalities, government agencies, and other non-profits. The surveillance kit includes three concealable, lockable cameras and accessories that can capture usable, conviction-worthy footage of license plates and dumpers – even at night. More information about this and other KPB programs can be found on their website.
Please Dispose of Waste Items Properly
Illegal dumping creates health risks for all Pennsylvanians and detracts from our quality of life. Tax dollars which could be spent in countless better ways are used to clean up illegal dumpsites. While we may never be able to completely stop illegal dumping, there are steps we can all take to help alleviate this problem. DEP’s website offers helpful information on how to properly dispose of waste tires, electronics, and other materials commonly dumped illegally. And remember to visit the Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful website for tips on how to report illegal dumping.
By properly disposing of waste and reporting those who don’t, we can lower the cost of illegal dumping while providing a cleaner, healthier environment for all Pennsylvanians.