East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is warning landowners they could be left with a huge bill and a fire risk because of illegal waste dumping.
The Environment Agency has highlighted that criminals are increasingly renting land, particularly vacant warehouses, and then filling them with waste.
The waste is often hidden by baling it in plastic wrapping, and a warehouse can be filled with thousands of these bales in just a few days.
The criminals then vanish, leaving the landowner with the legal responsibility, expensive costs and significant inconvenience of clearing the waste from the site. In recent cases, landowners have had to spend between £200,000 and £2,000,000 to clear sites which can also be then contaminated for many years. It is also a serious fire hazard with numerous examples of major fires occurring in these situations attracting further disruption and cost to the landowner.
Deputy Chief Fire Officer Mark Andrews said, “Waste fires are very difficult to put out due to the sheer volume of burning material and the problems of access and water supplies for the crews. If a site like this catches alight, it can burn for days or even weeks and can be dangerous for our crews to tackle because we just do not know what is contained in the bales. In the meantime, the fires can produce a lot of smoke which cause major disruption to the local community and tie up vital emergency service resources; the water run off can damage the environment if it is not properly managed.”
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said, “We are committed to closing down as many illegal waste sites as possible across the South East. They have a detrimental impact on the local environment, creating an eyesore as well as undercutting legitimate waste companies.
“We are well aware of the damage that illegal sites can do to the local environment, communities and the economy. Unscrupulous criminal operators often lease land, rapidly fill it with waste and then soon disappear, leaving the landowner with a huge bill for the clean-up costs.
“There have been recent cases in Sussex where significant amounts of waste wood has been abandoned on land. We have also discovered rented units which have been stockpiled with commercial waste. Waste fires continue to be a problem, having the potential to seriously impact the environment and local communities.
“We are working in partnership with local authorities, the police and a network of other agencies to crack down on waste crime and to ensure that those responsible pay the penalty for their actions.”