Unauthorized dumping could result in hefty fines

  • Published
  • By Merrie Schillter-Lowe
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – They’ve found microwave ovens, cans of paint, used motor oil, household cleaning liquids and even a refrigerator in the trash dumpsters on base.    


All of these items contain toxic elements that can threaten human health and the environment, said Douglas Berndsen, 60th Civil Engineer Squadron hazardous waste program manager at Travis Air Force Base, California.


“The worst things we’ve see in the dumpsters are antifreeze, automotive oil and car batteries,” said Berndsen.  “If they would have spilled, a spill team – such as the fire department – would have to clean up the mess.” 


Additionally, if the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finds these items in the waste containers, “it could result in a $25,000 fine per incident per day,” said Berndsen.


So far, the base has been lucky, said Anthony Llanes, 60th CES environmental protection specialist.


“Fortunately, we've either found this stuff because someone called us first, or we've found it during a weekly spot check,” said Llanes.


But that’s not always the case when it comes to small appliances and other electrical wastes such as computers and televisions.  


“People should take E-waste to the Solano County or Vacaville (California) recycling centers,” said Llanes.  “Since we don’t know who dumped these items, we have to pay for their removal and disposal.” 


The situation is even worse behind the base's legal office and the dormitories, since that’s where most household items end up.


“People have tossed sofas, mattresses, lawn furniture and even a dining room table that was set outside the dumpster,” said Master Sgt. Michael Mann, 60th CES dormitory superintendent.  “People with base access have even brought items on to the base to dump. We know because we’ve found their personal mail along with the items.”


According to Mann, two months ago, they used dormitory funds to buy cameras with security boxes to monitor the areas and are working with the first sergeants group to help identify culprits.


“When we catch people in the act, we tell them on the spot that the dumpsters are for dorm residents,” said Mann.  “Some have said, ‘Oh, we didn’t know that.  We thought anyone could use them.’”


With more than 1,000 dormitory residents, the dumpsters fill quickly with just ordinary trash.  When bulky household items are added to the mix, it becomes a quality of life issue, said Mann.


“It definitely affects (residents’) quality of life because they have nowhere else to put their trash,” said Mann.  “They have to either take it back to their rooms or leave it outside the dumpster.” 


And that practice has created another problem. 


“Raccoons and rodents get into the bags looking for the food,” said Mann.  “It’s not just an eye sore, but the dump trucks don’t have to pick up the trash outside the dumpsters, so every morning, our Airmen do a trash walk to police the area and maintain the appearance of the campus. We waste a lot of man-hours,” said Mann.   


Currently, the back of Mann’s own truck is filled with abandoned items.


“The (Defense Logistics Agency) used to help us out by taking this stuff,” said Mann.  “Now that they have moved off base, we have nowhere to take it and we don’t have the money to take it off base for disposal.”


Mann said the 60th CES is working with base leadership to educate people about unauthorized dumping, especially in the dormitory areas.  By installing cameras, they hope to put a stop to the practice.    


“The biggest thing we hope happens is that we can educate people and have them help spread the word,” said Mann.


People who live in base housing have the option of calling Republic Services to schedule pick up of large items, or they can contact Balfour Beatty Communities Housing for a free voucher.


“The voucher allows them to take items to the Potrero Hills Landfill,” said Matt Foster,  60th CES housing element chief.   


The landfill is located in nearby Suisun City, California.