NDOT: Roadside waste a growing problem
September 13, 2005
CARSON CITY – Bottles filled with urine and dirty diapers are part of a growing hazardous-waste problem along Nevada’s roadways.
Thor Dyson, NDOT’s district engineer for northwest Nevada, said the practice is all too common among truckers who, rather than stopping at a restroom, fill a bottle then throw it out along the road.
“We find them along the shoulder quite often on Interstate 80, (Highway) 50 and other routes across the state,” he said. “A lot of (truckers have) long driving hours, and they’re on a schedule, so some individuals will refuse to stop and use rest areas.”
Dyson said the bottles of urine started showing up about 10 years ago, but the number has been increasing as the traffic through the state increases.
He said there have also been problems at some of the truck inspection sites operated by the Nevada Highway Patrol.
“We’ve gone so far as to put up outhouses in some of these areas. When NHP truck inspectors open a site, we help clean it up. It’s definitely a health issue.”
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Dyson said that isn’t the only hazardous waste showing up.
“Diapers are a big problem,” he said. “We pick up a lot of baby diapers.”
NDOT spokesman Scott Magruder said maintenance crews find a wide variety of garbage along Nevada’s highways – everything from discarded chemical drums to mattresses.
“It’s unfortunate that maintenance forces have to be subjected to this,” he said.
Dyson said many times the waste is found by work crews – often people serving community service for some minor offense. He said supervisors have to warn them about what they might be picking up.
He said there is a potentially large penalty if someone is caught dumping hazardous waste along the roadways. He said littering can be up to a $2,000 fine in Nevada, and, in his mind, human waste would qualify for a significant fine.
“We have crews out looking for big stuff like mattresses,” he said.
The mattress problem, Dyson said, is more common than one would think because even though heavy, they will blow out of the back of a truck.
“The wind nails it, and it ends up being a hazard on the roadway.”
Drivers, he said, sometimes think they can drive over a mattress if they have a pickup or larger truck. He said one case he had to handle involved a mattress that caught fire from a vehicle’s exhaust.
“I actually myself had to pick up a burning mattress in downtown Reno,” he said.
He said they have crews in two one-ton trucks out looking for debris every day in western Nevada.
“And they make one, two or even three loads a day to the dump.”
Dyson said those crews also have to deal with all manner of dead animals – usually accidentally killed by motorists. They range from cats and dogs to deer, cattle and even horses.
Magruder said the public often blames NDOT.
“All the trash on the highway is somehow the state’s responsibility,” he said. “It’s actually the individual’s responsibility.”
Dyson agreed: “It’s not NDOT’s garbage. It just happens to be on a state right-of-way, and we have to deal with it.”
He said bottles of urine and dirty diapers are probably the most disgusting garbage commonly found along the highways, but not the most dangerous. He said occasionally they find truly hazardous waste in drums and other containers either deliberately or accidentally dumped.
“We have an on-call hazmat consultant so if it doesn’t look right, if it’s truly hazardous, we call some one to look at it.”
He said a hazmat team must be called several times each year.