How to avoid the dangers of accepting illegal fill onto your land

Just because you own a piece of land, does not mean that you can build or dump anything you want on it.

You need zoning, construction, commercial, or land use permits. Because what you do on your land can affect your health, your neighbors, community, and the environment.

That’s why there are government rules and regulations that you need to be aware of.

What you need to know before you accept fill

As a landowner, you might need fill for various reasons like landscaping, leveling of blocks, renovations, land rehabilitation, and land reclamation works.

Finding fill can be challenging and costly, especially when dealing with large projects. You need to ensure that the fill you choose is suitable for your land and project needs and is free of any contaminants or hazardous material.

You might be tempted to save money and look for free fill. Or you might be tempted to accept payment and allow others to use your land to get rid of their excess fill.

Before you say yes, stop and consider the consequences.

Often, the fill material given to landowners is mixed with waste and contaminants like asbestos, petroleum hydrocarbons, and heavy metals that you cannot see.

Although it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, if it turns out that the fill material accepted on your land contains waste or contaminants, it may ruin and permanently devalue it.

Contaminated fill can seep into the land and water system and affect your health, your family, nearby residential and farming properties as well as the wildlife. As the landowner, you’ll be held responsible, and you might end up with substantial clean-up costs and legal fees.

What type of fill can you accept

Check your local municipal website for any bylaws on the type of fill that can be accepted in your area. Get familiar with your local laws so you can ask the right questions when choosing fill for your land.

In general, the only acceptable fill material that may be received on your property includes:

  • Virgin excavated natural material. That is, natural material such as clay, gravel, sand, soil or rock fines that have been excavated or quarried from areas that are not contaminated with manufactured chemicals, or with process residues and does not contain any sulfidic ores or soils, or any other waste; or
  • Professionally assessed soil that demonstrates that the material is not contaminated; or
  • Material that is deemed beneficial for reuse, such as bricks, concrete, tiles, or asphalt for legitimate structural and reclamation projects and has been approved by your local provincial and municipal authorities.

It’s your responsibility as the landowner to prove that the fill is not contaminated and that it will not cause environmental harm.

By accepting illegal fill, you would be participating in illegal dumping and enabling the producer of it to avoid paying fees on material that should be treated or placed in properly licensed landfills.

Most importantly, you may be exposing yourself, your family, or others to material that could severely impact health, and may affect the use of your land and any produce from it.

How to minimize risk

Below are some suggestions to help you minimize risk and avoid the dangers of accepting illegal fill on your property.

  • Check if fill placement is permitted on your land and if any approvals are required before accepting any fill. You also need to make sure that acceptable fill is not placed in areas where it may cause harm to plants and wildlife or pollute watercourses.
  • Check the credentials of anyone who offers you free or cheap fill. Ask brokers or sellers for proof of identity and/or business details. If you have any doubts or believe anyone has supplied you with false or misleading information (such as falsified ‘clean fill’ documentation), report them immediately to your local town or city authorities.
  • Never accept fill from unknown sources. Always ask the supplier where the fill is coming from and what activities were conducted at the source site. Ask for the site address and consider inspecting the site before accepting any fill. If you don’t know where the fill is from or what’s in it, don’t take it.
  • Ask the supplier to prove that the fill isn’t contaminated before accepting on your property. Always ask to see the initial results of the chemical laboratory analysis of the fill. You can alternatively, organize samples to be collected and analyzed independently to prove that the fill is clean. Do not accept any fill with negative results. As a landowner, you can be ordered to remove the contaminated fill and pay the costs of taking it to a lawful waste facility.
  • Supervise and inspect all loads of incoming fill onto your property to ensure that you receive only what you have ordered. One load of contaminated fill could contaminate all other loads. Guard your property so that vehicles cannot enter without your permission or knowledge.
  • Record the registration details of all vehicles that transport fill to your property and ask drivers for proof of identity or employment, such as their driver's license or company delivery dockets.
  • Keep copies of all documents and records about the fill you receive, including the name and address of the supplier and transporter. Take photos of the trucks and registration plates for your records.

Reporting illegal dumping

If you suspect unlawful dumping on your land or neighboring properties, report them immediately to your local authorities.

Taking photos and providing additional details like vehicle license plate numbers will help the authorities with their investigations.