Officials said the more than 30 containers filled with paint, paint-related materials, construction compounds and cleaning supplies found within feet of the Eel River near Ferndale in February is just another example of the continuing illegal dumping problem in Humboldt County.
"We found bullet holes in some of the containers, and their contents were leaking into the ground, which can pollute ground and surface water," Department of Health and Human Services Division of Environmental Health Director Melissa Martel said. "We want to prevent these hazardous substances from impacting wildlife, humans and drinking water systems."
The Eel River area is not alone.
Samoa, Loleta, parts of Blue Lake, the outskirts of Orick and Liscom Slough in Arcata are localities particularly hard hit by people dumping trash, Martel said.
"It appears these people don't want to be seen, and illegally dispose of their trash in remote areas. We've had some success finding the parties involved, where we've written up cases and referred them to the district attorney for prosecution," Martel said.
The county Division of Environmental Health and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife have hazardous waste enforcement authority. Fines can run from $5,000 to $100,000, with possible jail time. If hazardous waste causes a fire or explosion, fines can be up to $250,000.
Humboldt Waste Management Authority Executive Director Jill Duffy said the amount of waste dumped each year is difficult to quantify.
"There are a myriad of public agencies that all have to deal with illegally disposed material on public land, and then there's waste that's left on private property, and all the information is not consolidated," Duffy said.
Arcata and Eureka have mandated trash pickup service, but the unincorporated areas of county do not.
Solvents, paints and other household waste can be toxic even in small doses, Martel said.
"We encourage people to take waste to appropriate places," she said. "Just about all areas have a transfer station or container site. We also have occasional household hazardous waste collection events where we accept hazardous and electronic waste for free. This is our community, and it has unmatched resources, whether it be the ocean, the bay, the lagoons, the major coastal rivers, the fishing or the aquaculture."
Discarded appliances are another major issue.
"We see a lot of dumped TVs and washing machines. I don't even know where all the washing machines come from. What a lot of Eureka residents I talk to don't know is that if they're already signed up for garbage service, they're already paying for the removal of bulky items," Eureka Code Enforcement Program Manager Brian Issa said.
Jillian Singh can be reached at 441-0509 or firstname.lastname@example.org.