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Criminal Enforcement: Signs of Environmental Violations


In your everyday life you may come across signs that someone has broken an environmental law. These violations may not always be obvious.

Below we list some signs of possible environmental law violations. If you come across these signs, please report them using the EPA's Report an Environmental Violation form.

Possible environmental violations:

photograph of investigators in hazardous material protection suits, viewing multiple drums

Containers or drums that appear to be abandoned (for example, you find them in a forest, along a roadside or otherwise in a place where it appears they do not belong), especially if they are corroded or leaking.

photograph of dead fish on river bank

Dead fish in streams or waterways, particularly if the water appears to contain foreign substances (such as detergent, bleach, chemicals or has a strange color).

Dead animals, alongside a river bank, or in a field.

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photograph of destressed vegetation along waterway

Discolored and/or stressed, dying plant life.

photograph of debris in waterway

Foul smelling or oddly colored discharges on to the ground or into a stream or waterway.

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photograph of slick on the surface of a pond

Visible sheens on the ground or in the water.

photograph of air emissions

Foul smelling or strange looking emissions into the air.

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photograph of stained drain

Stains around drains, sinks, toilets or other wastewater outlets.

photograph of pipe dumping waste

Pipes or valves that appear to allow the bypass of wastewater treatment systems.

Pipes or valves that would allow for discharge from a plant that appear hidden.

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photograph of asbestos removal

Building demolition that may involve illegal removal
of asbestos or other hazardous materials.

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Also be aware of odd activities, such as:

  • A truck dumping materials into a manhole or sewer drain.
  • A truck unloading drums at odd hours or in odd places.
  • A person burying drums on business or residential property.

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Remember: Your Safety Comes First

EPA does not want you to put yourself in harm's way. If you see any of the above these signs of potential violations, please review these safety tips and do not try and investigate on your own - report what you see at

  • If you are not sure that an area is safe, stay away
  • Do not enter confined spaces or low-lying areas
  • Do not lean over open waste containers, or kick, rock or puncture waste containers
  • If trained to enter, wear appropriate protective gear
  • Do not take samples unless trained
  • Keep others away from the scene until assistance arrives
  • Be sure to keep children and pets away
  • Do not track toxic material into your car

For more information on environmental crime, see Criminal Investigations - Violation Types and Examples  or review the Report an Environmental Violation - General Information Brochure

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