While discarded tires often dominate the discussion of illegal dumping, the variety of trash that can be found on Maine’s roadsides is staggering.

A stretch of Belgrade’s heavily wooded Penney Road that was mostly cleaned up last month included small items such as beer cans, half-smoked cigarettes and Styrofoam cups; potentially toxic materials such as cans of paint, TV sets, chemically treated wood, a propane tank and a fire extinguisher; larger items such as a car bumper, a rusty metal tire ramp, a leather couch and mattresses; as well as an oddball assortment of personal items such as an artificial Christmas tree, a string of Christmas lights and plastic tricycles.

There has been no effort to catalog the costs of illegal dumping to Maine’s citizens, but experts describe many individual effects — including death.

Unsightly piles of garbage drive property values down, taxes up and tourists away.

The trash also can endanger public health.

Paula Clark, who oversees the solid waste management division for the Department of Environmental Protection, said organic waste draws flies and rats, while the small reservoirs of stagnant water in abandoned tires are perfect breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Larger dump sites, particularly those near water, have the potential to leach dangerous chemicals into the water supply.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found in 2004 that debris in roads, which can fall off a vehicle or blow into the road after being dumped, causes 25,000 accidents and 80 to 90 fatalities nationwide each year.

Illegal dumping also makes it harder for residents and visitors to preserve and enjoy Maine’s wilderness for recreational purposes.

Charlie Baeder, executive director of the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, which oversees about 9,000 acres throughout the region, said the group sometimes focuses on the issue.

The group organizes volunteers to pick up discarded rubbish from a site. On occasion, he said, it pays to have physical barriers such as gates, signs and game cameras, all of which use resources that could be directed elsewhere.

Baeder agreed that the net result of the group’s efforts might be simply sending the offender a little farther down the road to dump a truckload of debris at the next likely spot.

Every time a public worker deals with trash, there’s a direct financial cost associated with that.

Greg Gill, town manager of Belgrade, said the minimum cost in resources for the town’s public works crew to pick up a tire and take it to the transfer station is $25. The cleanup on Penney Road, which he described as the worst one he’s seen, ran several hundred dollars.

For each of those components — lowered property values, cleanup costs, safeguards, environmental effects and traffic accidents — the costs have not been measured, which means that the total price tag for illegal dumping in the state is unknown.

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