When you notice something of concern, it’s important to report it to the right person, agency, or office who can handle it. Government is a bureaucratic behemoth with many layers, agencies, departments, divisions, and offices. Your concern may go unheard if you do not report it to the appropriate agency. Depending on the issue, it could be a problem for local, state, or federal government. When you report a concern make sure to get a reference number if you can, and make note of the person you talked to, the date and time, and their contact information so you can follow up.
A. What to look for when making a report
- Include the date and time that you witnessed the environmental concern or incident.
- If the incident (e.g. an algal bloom) occurred before you witnessed it, include any details that may indicate when it occurred (e.g. “I didn’t observe any algae in the creek last week”)
- If the concern is ongoing (e.g. increased animal/manure odor), describe the duration of the concern (e.g. “We’ve noticed increasingly strong manure odors when the wind blows east for the past two weeks”)
- Explain in detail what you are experiencing/experienced.
- Include sights, sounds, and smells associated with the incident or concern
- Provide a comparison with what is “normal” (e.g. “I often observe fish swimming in this creek when I walk by in the morning, but today I saw about eight dead fish along the bank and none swimming in the water.”)
- Examples can include: chemical spill or hazardous waste activity, explosion, noise, raw sewage, green slime, dumping, bad smell, flooding
- Provide as much contextual information as you can.
- If you suspect pollution of a water body, provide its name or description (e.g. Shady Creek)
- If the environmental concern took place on a specific property, provide its name (e.g. Fisher Hog Farms)
- If the environmental concern was observed along a roadway, name the roadway (e.g. off to the left about six miles east down County Road 171) or the intersection
- If there is a street address associated with your concern, list the address or the closest one
- You can also provide the longitudinal and latitudinal coordinates of the location — a smartphone may be able to provide this information
- Name or address of a facility, operator, business, individual, or corporation, if applicable
- You can try to identify if the source of the problem has a permit to operate and from which government agency (e.g. Missouri Department of Natural Resources or DNR, Environmental Protection Agency or EPA)
- Mention any recent or unusual events that may have an environmental impact.
- Weather events like heavy rainfalls, storms, and flooding
- New property owners, land development, farms and other facilities in the area
- Other pollution events
B. Reporting to Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources’s Division of Environmental Quality is responsible for “preventing pollution, protecting the public from harmful emissions, discharges and waste disposal practices.” Part of its mission is to respond to environmental concerns and environmental emergencies. You can report environmental concerns and emergencies to the Division of Environmental Quality’s Environmental Services Program.
An environmental emergency poses an immediate threat to public health or the environment. DNR gives the following examples of environmental emergencies: oil and chemical leaks or spills, radiological and biological discharges, accidents that release pollutants, fish kills, and hazardous material incidents.
If you are involved in or witness an environmental emergency, you should report it immediately to DNR at 573-634-2436. When making your call to report environmental emergencies, you may follow the phone script for reporting an environmental concern that is provided below.
Environmental concerns do not require immediate attention, but also threaten the environment. DNR provides examples including trash dumps or discarded waste tires in a stream. If your environmental concern doesn’t match this definition of an emergency, you can still report your environmental concernsto DNR by calling your regional office or reporting through an online form. If you believe you have witnessed an environmental concern, you may take the following steps to report it. These options are detailed below. No matter how you report your concern, make sure you have the following information ready:
|CountyNearest cityDate of incidentDescription of concernDriving directions to the location of your concern
|Responsible party or property ownerContact informationYour personal contact informationPhotos and/or videos of the environmental concern
Environmental concerns can be reported online through the DNR’s Environmental Concern Form. If you plan to report your concern through DNR’s form, you should follow these steps:
- When you reach DNR’s Environmental Concern Form webpage, you should select ‘Report an Environmental Concern’ from the dropdown menu under ‘Type of Inquiry’ (note there are also options to submit general inquiries and comments through this form).
- Once you select ‘Report an Environmental Concern’, you will see spaces to fill out your county, the nearest city, date of the incident, a description of your concern, and driving directions to the location of your concern. All of this information is required. Especially in rural areas, it may be hard to rely on street addresses or landmarks to identify your concern location and DNR is more likely to conduct a thorough investigation of your concern if they can visit the site in question.
- There’s also optional information that you may include in your environmental concern. As a general rule, DNR will do a more thorough investigation if you provide more information. You have the option to include the name and contact information for the ‘Responsible Party or Property Owner,’ which is the person or facility you think is responsible for your environmental concern. You don’t have to be certain that this party is responsible to provide their contact information; DNR will investigate the party before taking any enforcement action. Even if this party is not responsible, the conversation may give DNR more information to help their investigation.
- Your contact information is also optional. DNR can only inform you of the outcome of the concern investigation and/or ask for additional information regarding your concern if you share your contact information. However, environmental concern forms may be disclosed to the public under the Missouri Sunshine Law. Therefore, you should not provide any personal information that you wish to keep private. Note that if you choose to provide personal contact information on the Environmental Concern Form, your address is optional.
If you would like to report your concern by phone, you have two options.
- Call your DNR regional office. You may locate your regional office and find their phone numbers here.
- Call DNR’s general office number, 800-361-4827, on weekdays between 8:00 AM CST and 5:00 PM CST.
If you call in your environmental concern, you should include all of the same information that you would in the online form. Again, some information is optional but may help DNR conduct a thorough investigation and help you hold them accountable for following up on your concern. See the sample phone script below for an idea of how to report an environmental concern over the phone. You may also use this script to guide you when reporting an environmental emergency.
Note that your call may need to be redirected to the appropriate office and staff member. Make sure to write down the full name of the staff member to whom you report your environmental concern in case you need to follow up. The staff member taking your call may respond throughout and/or prompt you to provide information with their own questions – especially if you forget to include required information. It is OK if you do not follow this script exactly, but it should guide you through the conversation and help you remember what information is important.
|Phone Script for Reporting an Environmental Concern“Hi, I’m trying to reach the [name of your regional DNR office] to report an environmental concern in [name of your county]. (Optional: My name is [your name].) May I ask who I am speaking with?” Once you have confirmed the name of the staff member, you will describe your concern. Note that you may report an environmental concern that you observed outside your county of work/residence. If so, you will want to modify the first sentence below. For example:“Yes, I live/work in [name of county] near [name of closest city]. On [date], I observed/started to observe [description of concern] at [description of concern location]. You can reach this location by [to the best of your ability, provide driving directions from the nearest town or major intersection to the concern location]. I believe [name of responsible party] owns this property and may be responsible for the concern. [Provide any contact information for the responsible party (name, phone number, email address, street address, facility name, permit number) that you may have].” DNR must follow up on your environmental concern with an investigation. They may not be obligated to do so, but you may request that the investigator takes site photos, tests water quality, and/or contacts the responsible party regarding your environmental concern. If you want DNR to follow up with you regarding your concern report, be sure to provide your contact information.“(Optional: I would like to request that you [take site photos, test the creek for E. coli, etc.] regarding my environmental concern. Please contact me at [phone number and/or email address] with the outcome of your investigation or if you need any additional information to complete your investigation.)”Otherwise, you may end the conversation by saying something like:“I would prefer to report this environmental concern anonymously. (Optional: [your reason for remaining anonymous].) Thank you for your time and diligence in investigating my concern.”
The regional office of DNR that receives your environmental concern report will follow up with a concern investigation. You may find an example of what this could look like here. To conduct an investigation, DNR staff visit the concern location to assess: 1) the validity of the concern, and 2) the cause and impact of the concern (if the concern is determined to be valid). While there is a standard procedure for investigating environmental concerns, the extent of the investigation relies in part on the information that you provide in your report and in part on whether DNR staff sees evidence of a concern. If they do not see evidence of your concern, DNR staff will not conduct extensive water quality tests, take site photos, or determine a responsible party/property owner.
If the DNR site investigation supports a pollution concern, DNR staff will attempt to locate its source. If you identify a responsible party/property owner and their contact information in your environmental concern report, this gives DNR a place to start. Once DNR locates the source of the concern, they will determine the appropriate enforcement action for the responsible party/property owner. Typically, DNR takes a “compliance assistance” approach to help violators understand environmental regulations and avoid future violations. Unfortunately, this means that DNR rarely issues fines or revokes permits – even for repeat violators. You may want to see the section on legal action for repeat violations.
The results of the investigation (including any enforcement action) will be recorded and kept at the appropriate regional office. If you provide your contact information, DNR should follow up with you directly to share the findings of their concern investigation and any enforcement actions they may have taken. You may try calling the regional office and ask to follow up on an environmental concern report if you do not hear back within a week or two.
Even if you have not submitted an environmental concern report, you can request access to these documents under the Missouri Sunshine Law (learn how to make these requests in Part 2) or request to review them at a regional office. Letters of Warning (LOW) and Notices of Violation (NOV) – two enforcement actions taken by the DNR – are searchable in this database; however, the documents themselves must also be requested through a Sunshine request.
C. MCE’s Missouri Pollution Watch
MCE’s Pollution Watch form is another way to share your environmental concerns and seek support. This form notifies Missouri Coalition for the Environment of your concern. Please note that this form is NOT a substitute for reporting to an official agency. Filling out this form does not constitute a report for legal reporting requirements.It is a request for support from MCE and helps us identify possible issues to pursue in our advocacy. MCE will follow up as soon as possible and will work with staff, partners, and allies to address your concern to the best of our ability.
MCE will take action within our organizational capacity if able, and will support you or other groups to address pollution. You may submit MCE’s Pollution Watch form in addition to reporting your concern to DNR to bring your issue to the attention of MCE. It also helps us better understand where problems are occurring. You can include any follow up in the description on the form.