Environmental Crimes

A Definition of Environmental Crime

An environmental crime is an unauthorized act or omission that violates the law and is therefore  subject to criminal prosecution and criminal sanctions.

 This offense harms or endangers people’s physical safety or health as well as the environment itself. It serves the interests of either organizations typically corporations—or individuals.

This definition stresses three features of environment mental crime. Elf. It serves the interests of either organizations—typically corporations—or individuals. This definition stresses three features of environmental crime.

Third, although corporations are the chief environmental offenders, other organizations (e.g., criminal combines or government agencies) as well as individuals can also commit environmental crimes.

 For example, organized crime has infiltrated the waste disposal industry and illegally dumped hazardous contaminants. Local governments have shipped solid waste to prohibited sites. Individuals have contributed to the destruction of protected forests and wildlife. Vendors have sold contaminated meat and seafood to the public.

The Extent of the Environmental Crisis

Criminal justice’s role in environmental regulation expands as the environmental crisis grows. The crisis is both the context and stimulus for heightened interest in criminal justice remedies.

 Consequently, the scope of the crisis merits review before examining how the criminal justice system may—or may not—help abate the crisis.  Charting the extent of the crisis is not easy.

The illegal disposal of hazardous waste illustrates the difficulties. Estimates of the number of  hazardous waste sites range from 4,000 to 50,000 (Day, 1989; Rosenbaum,  1991). Consensus is also lacking on the amount of hazardous waste generated.

Air Pollution

 Air pollution has become a growing threat to the nation’s health and welfare because of the ever increasing emission of contaminants into theta/ noosphere.  Nationwide emissions of carbon monoxide reached 109 million tons in 1992 (Erickson, 1992).

 In the 1970s, in contrast, cleaner air seemed  one of the few, albeit partial, victories in the war to save the environment. The decade began with passage of the Clean Air Act (1970). Other, tougher standards on particulate emissions were enacted at the state and local levels.

Emission control devices became standard issue on cars and smokestacks across America. But 60% of the U.S. population lived in areas in which air  quality failed the standards set by the Clean Air Act, and the air inversions  of the summer of 1988 reminded the nation that “the air has been so bad that  it again needs a warning label: caution, breathing may be hazardous to your  health,” as one science writer put it (Begley, 1988, p. 47).

 She notes, Seventy-six cities registered ozone readings at least 25 percent above EPA’s
limit of 120 parts per billion. Atlanta has topped the standard 21 times, New.

Thai times above normal in the counties with the heaviest levels of petrol                       chemical was (Morton , 1990) .  Solid waste dumps pose threats of miscarriage, birth defects , cancer , chromosome damage , skin rashes , headaches , nervous disorders , and other ailments to resident s who liv e in their vicinity .

 These danger s were etched on public consciousness by the environmental catastrophe Love Canal in Niagara Falls, New York , where Hooker Chemic l and Plastics Company had disposed of 27,000 tons of toxic waste .

 The dump site and surrounding are aware developed into suburban tract housing in the 1950s. By 1976, residents had endured a variety of calamities.

 After several years of unusually heavy rains, the wate r table rose , leaving house foundations awash with chemical waste .

Garden s withered, pets died, and children suffered severe chemical burns on their hand s an d feet . High rate s birth defects , miscarriage , cancer , an d blood disorders  along with other maladies , were detected .

 When only 2 to 17 pregnant women in Love Can l gave birth to healthy babies , authorities judge the area in grave and imminent peril .

Surveys indicated pollution several hundred times above safe levels. Th e local school was closed, more than 200 houses were demolished , and more than 1,000 families were evacuated .

Clean up and liability costs from the disaster exceed $200 million (Albanese, 1984 ; Newton & Dillingham , 1994) Love Canal is only the most notorious of more than 50,000 hazardous waste sites across the nation , a monument to the widespread negligence and environmental indifference over chemical dumping b U.S . industry (Rosenbaum, 1991).

Social and Psychological Impact The victims  of natural disasters experience stress because their way of life is disrupted, and what they lost cannot easily be restored (Barton , 1969) .

 Man-made disasters to the environment compound this stress because victims ‘ anger about human error cannot be assuaged by stoicism (Couch & Kroll-Smith, 1985 ; Erickson , 1976 ; Janis , 1971) .

A study of Jackson Town ship, New Jersey, reveals the persisting human effects of environmental disasters (Edelstein , 1988) . In the 1950s, Jackson gained a reputation for genteel country living, as a haven for the American dream .

 This status was tarnished in the 1960 s when a landfill for a paid manufacturer opened in the township. Noise, litter, dust, and mosquitoes beset the community . Most upsetting to the residents was the decline in water quality.

When the board of health declared residential well water contaminated and trucked  in supplies from outside sources, homeowners reacted with surprise, anger, and antagonism.

 Despite the hook up to city water in 1980, their feelings of anxiety, resentment , and vulnerability persisted .

 Their image of the rural suburb as protected have had already dimmed. Loss of trust In government and a diminished sense of personal control endured. Because environmental health problems would take e some time to become manifest, questions about t illness, life span, an d genetic damage persisted well l into the future .

 This s change in “life scope”—an individual’s cognition and perception  About self, others, and the larger world—is a more significant impact from catastrophic toxic exposure, according to Edelstein , than any Material change in lifestyle

During the 1980s , public support for environmental protection grew , partly in reaction to President Reagan’ s downsizing o f federal effort s an d partly i n reaction to the dire new s o f environmental disaster s (Dunlap , 1989) .

 Reagan dismantled the Council on Environmental Quality , sought smaller budgets for the EPA , and pressed for environmental deregulation in general Environmentalists responded angrily , and the broader public renewed its earlier concerns for protecting the environment

In the early 1980s , 67 % of the public supported existing environmental law even at the cost of some economic growth (Rosenbau , 1991) . Almost half the public—more than three times the level a decade earlier—favoured greater regulation of the environment (Gilroy & Shapiro , 1986) .

 This tough mood followed the disasters of toxic waste at Love Canal , acid rain in the Northeast , and reports of holes in the ozone layer of the atmosphere .

 Th e 1990 s ushered in an even tougher perception of environmental protection . More than 70 % of the American public in 199 0 favoured the us e of jail terms when firms are guilty of purposely violating pollution laws (Lad d & Bowman , 1995) .

 Th e following year , 84 % of American s believed that damaging the environmental a serious crime , and 75 % favored holding corporate officials personally responsible for environmental offenses by their firms (Arthur D . Little, Inc., 1991) . 


First, environmental crime violates existing environmental laws. Behaviour or, however egregious or offensive, that does not violate the law is not crime.  Environmental crime, in other words, is the creation of environmental law. For instance, hazardous waste dumping was not prohibited until enactment of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976.

This environmental law defined the act of hazardous waste dumping as a felony, subject to a maximum fine of $50,000 and/or 5 years of imprisonment.  Second, environmental crime has two real victims—people and the environment—whereas the victims of street crime are usually persons.

Moreover, when one street crime occurs, generally one victim at that moment is produced. An environmental crime, in contrast, typically has many victims— sometimes the population of an entire region.

 Their victimization may also be gradual and silent, going undetected for years. The environment that is victim is often public property (e.g., a state park) or resources on which there is no private claim (e.g., the air), whereas the property that street crime harms is usually private.

Water Quality

About half of the U.S. population (97% in rural areas) relies on underground sources of water—groundwater—for drinking and other personal uses.

Today, landfill and chemical storage leaks, hazardous waste, and fertilizer runoff are contaminating underground aquifers. For example, a1982 U.S.

 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) survey found 45% of large public water systems supplied by underground aquifers to be contaminated with organic chemicals.

In New Jersey, every major aquifer is compromised by chemical pollutants. In California, pesticides contaminate the drinking water of more than 1 million residents.

Underground aquifers near almost all the nation’s nuclear fuel plants have been contaminated by radio[1]activity (Null, 1990). According to one estimate, it would take 3,000 years, starting tomorrow, for pollutants to bleed out of Long Island’s water table, the region’s only source of freshwater (Day, 1989).

Day comments, “As New York has some of the strongest legislation in America to control water pollution, it is frightening to imagine what the water pollution rate must be in less well-protected industrial areas” (

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Human Impact

The environmental crisis causes substantially more illness, injury, and death than street crime does. Polluted water is the single greatest cause of huma n illness and death through disease (Day, 1989) .

Almost half of Americans regularly consume tainted drinking water. Countless toxic agent s threatens water safety.  Many specialize in their victims. Lead, a common an d highly toxic pollutant , is especially dangerous to children and pregnant women ;

   it ca n delay growth in babies an d cause menta l impairment in children . Lead also poses risks of nerve system damage, hearing loss, anaemia , and kidney damage .

The U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 10.4 million children have been exposed to excess amounts of lead in their drinking wate r (Null, 1990). Pollutants in water have also been linked to cancer.

Th e Council on Environmental Quality (1981) concludes that the widespread practice of chlorinating public drinking water appears to have increased the risk of gastrointestinal cancer through an individual, lifetime by 50 % to 100% in the Unite d States, approximately 53,000 persons a year die prematurely of lung ailments brought on by air pollution.

Ai r polluting caused by toxic agents in the workplace annually kills about 100,000 workers and results in 400,00 0 case s o f disease (Melki n & Brown , 1984)

 A somewhat  overlapping  estimate is that particulate  emissions kill 100,000 persons annually , about one and a quarter times the number of U.S . soldier s killed in battle in each year of World War 2 (Di Silvestro , 1991) .

Cancer death rate s are highest in areas close to petrochemical plants , steel mills , and metal refineries (Berry , 1988 ; Whelan , 1985) . New Jersey, to cite the worst example , harbours the country’ s highest mortality rates from cancer—up to two and

Economic Impact

Although comprehensive data on the cost of pollution and the price of cleaning up the environment are not available, selective figures reveal the enormous financial burden on society .

Between passage of the Clean Water Act in 197 2 and 1990, more than $10 0 billion was spent on improving water quality (Commoner , 1990) .

 Compliance with the Clean Air Act and acid rain legislation has cost more than $26.5 billion (Stroheim & Steen, 1989) . Since 1980, EPA’ s Superfund has spent more than $1 6 billion on cleaning hazardous waste sites.

 To complete the job will take, by conservative estimates , an additional $80 billion (Orme , 1992) . The human cost of pollution is equally high .

The American Lung Association estimates that air pollution from motor vehicles, power plants and industrial fuel l combustion costs the United States $40 billion annually in health care and lost productivity (Renner , 1980) .

The cost of treating employee s with diseases contracted from toxic agents in the workplace range s from $3 0 billion to $5 0 billion annually, according  to a U.S . Department to Labour study (Green & Berry , 1985) .

Public Opinion and the Environmental Crisis .

In a democracy, public opinion help s define social problems , place issues o n the e public agenda , an d shape public policy . Public opinion has play d these role s I n environmental affairs.

The criminalization of environmental regulation—i n la w an d administrative practice—partly reflect s a shift i n public attitude s toward environmental wrong s a s crimes . The late 1960 as evidence d a n awakening of public concern about the environment. Pollution and pesticide control became cause s for the Sierra Club an d other traditional advocate s o f conservation.

In addition, a s people became mor e affluent, their interest s shifted from question s o f basic survival to quality-of-life issue s such a s the environment. Th e first Earth Day i n 1970, celebrate d b y 2 0 million people , elevate d the environment t o a top spot on the public agenda (Dunlap , 1989) .

 From 196 5 to 1970, public support for r governmental action against pollution more than doubled 53%, according to Gallup poll s (Mitchell, 1980) . A t the same time, the perception of pollution as a serious problem spread from 28 % to 69 % of the people .

Public interest i n environmental problem s decline d during the 1970s: Support for more spending on pollution control dropped by more than half, from 78 % to 32 % (Dunlap & Dillan , 1976) .

The public ha d com e t o believe that new laws, such a s the National Environmental Policy Ac t o f 1969, an d the new EPA, established i n 1970 , were doing the job . Moreover, the energy crisis of 197 3 to 197 4 let fuel consumption trump pollution controls a s a public issue.