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How do you clean up three acres of trash? One Ohio community is about to find out

Demolition debris sits on stretch of land in Goshen Township.
Clermont County
The clean up of the illegal dump in Clermont County began this month.

A southwest Ohio resident’s backyard has been an illegal dumping ground for nearly a decade.

Back in 2016, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency ordered Donald Combs to remove the more than 500,000 cubic yards of scrap waste on his property. But, the Clermont County resident didn’t comply. His case went into lengthy litigation that resulted in prison time and a fine of $1.4 million dollars.

In May, Combs filed for bankruptcy. Ohio EPA Director Anne Vogel said that has cleared the way for the state agency and community partners to begin the work of clearing the debris from the Goshen Township dump site.

“We have great regulations and programs in Ohio to make sure that waste is disposed of properly,” Vogel said. “And this is not how it's done.”

More than an eyesore

Goshen Township, Clermont County Commissioners, the county prosecutor’s office and health department have all spent years attempting to rid the community of the illegal dump site.

Vogel said it’s more than just an eyesore to the community. It could potentially endanger the other residents of Goshen Township.

Trash at Donald Comb's residence in Goshen Township was piled nearly 20 feet high.
Ohio Attorney General Office
Trash at Donald Comb's residence in Goshen Township was piled nearly 20 feet high.

“When you have [trash] just being dumped in the backyard, it attracts rodents. It could leach into the soil and the groundwater if there's any fuel or something of that nature. It attracts mosquitoes which can become dangerous to the community,” Vogel said.

Especially since the site doesn't abide by the safety regulations of the EPA. Vogel said there isn’t hazardous material on the property, but the sheer size of the dump site made this case a high priority for the Ohio EPA.

“This is not a backyard where you're throwing your household waste out. This is about three acres of demolition debris,” Vogel said.

A statewide issue

Clermont County is far from the only place in Ohio that has to deal with illegal dumpers.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently cleaned up a dump site full of scrap tires in northeast Ohio. And the Ohio Attorney General’s office recently fined a landscape business owner for illegally dumping near the Little Miami River. Vogel said it’s unfortunately a problem that Ohio needs to work to improve.

“Believe it or not, people dump scrap tires into rivers, for some reason, into our most precious natural resource,” Vogel said.

Last year, the Ohio Attorney General launched a campaign called “Shine a Light on Illegal Dumpers” to crack down on these instances. And Vogel said the Ohio EPA has recently launched its own educational campaign to cut down on waste and end illegal dumping.

“For example, an auto repair shop or a tire shop where people might be turning in their scrap tires, teaching those folks how to properly dispose of them so that we don't create these streams of waste,” Vogel said. “We need to get in front of it because it is a problem in Ohio.”

Vogel said the cleanup of Clermont County’s dump site is a big win for the state – and one that will make a difference for a community long plagued by the trash pile.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.