VIRGINIA

George Mason student Olivier Giron tracks illegal dumping sites in Fairfax

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One man's trash has turned into another man's Master's thesis.

Olivier Giron attends George Mason University and is mapping illegal dump sites in Fairfax, Virginia.

While the effort is part of his graduation requirement, it's also become a way to clear waste impacting the local environment and has had him stumbling upon some unusual finds.

"One time I found a pile of womens' shoes," Giron said.

The items were strewn in the middle of a forest in Springfield, Virginia.

"The biggest thing that I wanted to do is try to have a platform where people could see the photographs and locations that I was finding," Giron said.

Giron, a fine arts and photography Master's student, began snapping images of illegal dump sites throughout Fairfax County.

He documented his work on the website Let's Do it Virginia, originally inspired by a movement in Estonia and a trip he took to Peru's Machu Picchu.

"On the path I was hiking, I encountered an area where there were hundreds of red bags that were all coming from the municipal dump," Giron said.

Using that experience, he took a closer look at the issue of illegal dumping in his own backyard. With the help of a smartphone and groups like "Friends of Accotink Creek," he is now mapping the problem areas online.

"Once those locations are mapped, maybe people in the community can get involved and organize a clean-up action," Giron said.

Most of the illegal dumping sites found so far are usually in hidden and obscure locations, but it's not unusual to find piles of trash in open areas visible to the public, even with a "No Dumping" sign posted.

The Fairfax County Health Department received nearly 300 calls last year related to illegally dumped trash.

"It has to do with some form of laziness, convenience, they're not aware of where they can actually take it," said John Yetman with the Fairfax County Health Dept.

Officials investigate the complaints to determine whether there's a safety risk.

"In many instances, it creates an unsafe condition such as an entrapment hazard for children," Yetman said. "It contributes to mosquito breeding and spread of disease."

Law enforcement steps in if the person who left the trash can be identified. But usually tracking that person down is challenging, given the location of the crime. County agencies rely on the public's help.

Giron says he's ready to get involved with the community, tackling the trash together.

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