CalEPA Environmental Complaint System FAQs

1. What types of concerns does CalEPA want to know about?

CalEPA is interested in any known or suspected illegal pollution or environmental hazard. Examples of common complaints are:

Water

  • Surface or Ground Water Pollution: Discharges of fuel, oil, or chemicals to surface water or ground water or that could impact surface waters or ground water.
  • Storm Water: Discharges of litter, manure, sediment, chemicals, and soaps to storm water conveyance systems, such as ditches, storm drains, or storm water retention basins.
  • Drinking Water: Problems associated with drinking and public water supply, water treatment and distribution systems, water reclamation / recycling, and contamination of water supply.
  • Illegal fill to wetlands or creeks: Dredging, filling, or grading wetlands or waterways without a permit to do so.
  • Wastewater: Problems associated with sewage collection and treatment systems, such as raw sewage spills and septic system failure or concerns with a local community service district or water treatment plant.

Note —  Water Waste: Inefficient and wasteful water use, including practices that are in violation of conservation requirements, should be reported directly to the State Water Resources Control Board’s Save Our Water Program.

Solid Waste

  • Illegal Dumping: Disposal of solid waste, including the dumping of trash, tires, or other waste on public or private property, such as a street, alley, parkway, field, waterway, or vacant lot.
  • Solid Waste Facilities: Improper acceptance, handling, transportation, or disposal of waste at a solid waste facility, such as landfills, transfer stations, or compost, tire, and construction and demolition waste facilities.
  • Storage or Transportation: Improper storage or transportation of solid wastes, including leaking or open garbage trucks or bins.
  • Recycling Buy-Back Centers: Acceptance of out-of-state beverage containers (bottles or cans), improper payments, or refusal to make redemption payments.
  • Tires: Problems with tire haulers, tire storage piles, or tire facilities.

Air Quality

  • Non-mobile or stationary sources: Open burning, fugitive dust, or any complaints about fixed emitters or releases of air pollutants from factories, refineries, gas stations, or industrial operations.
  • Mobile source: Vehicle air pollution such as smoking vehicles, idling heavy-duty diesel trucks, idling vehicles near schools, and idling or smoking locomotive engines.

Pesticides

  • Improper sale, transportation, storage, or use of pesticide products: Pesticide misapplication and drift and exposure of workers, the public, property, and the environment to pesticides.
  • Improper disposal of pesticides: Disposal of pesticides impacting surface or ground water.

Toxic Substances

  • Illegal disposal or handling of hazardous waste: This includes illegal disposal, storage, transportation, or treatment of hazardous chemical waste, waste oil, waste antifreeze, waste fluorescent light tubes, electronic wastes, waste pesticides and waste paint; improper operation of commercial hazardous waste management facilities.
  • Improper transportation of hazardous waste: Improper transportation includes not having insurance or hazardous waste hauler registration, or falsifying manifest documents.
  • Improper storage of hazardous waste: This includes leaking containers or containers lacking lids or labels.
2. What types of concerns should be reported elsewhere?

Some environmental issues are outside the authority of CalEPA’s boards and departments or their close local partners to address. Below are some examples of issues outside the scope of CalEPA’s enforcement authority and suggestions for where to direct those concerns. If you report these types of concerns through CalEPA’s system, the agencies reviewing your complaint will identify the appropriate agency to refer it to, if possible, and your complaint will be referred and marked “closed” in CalEPA’s system. For more information about why your complaint was closed, see FAQ #8.

  • Emergencies: Please call 911. CalEPA’s system is not designed to address emergency situations.
  • Spills: For hazardous material spills or sewer overflow notifications, call the state warning center at 1-800-852-7550.
  • Mold: Refer to the California Department of Public Health’s website f for more information about mold.
  • Wildlife: Report illegal activities related to fishing and hunting, such as poaching or endangered species issues, to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife through the CalTIP mobile application or by calling 1-888-334-CalTIP (1-888-334-2258).
  • Worker Safety: Workplace safety complaints should be reported to CalOSHA (California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health).. Other employer issues such as retaliation, discrimination, and wage claims can be reported to the Labor Commissioner’s Office within the California Department of Industrial Relations.
  • Proposition 65: The California Attorney General’s Office enforces Proposition 65, and can be reached at (510) 873-6321 or through their contact form. For general information about Proposition 65, please see the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment’s plain language guide.
  • Local Land Use Issues: Improper use of property such as industrial or commercial uses in a residential zone, habitability of rental housing, and noise complaints, should be reported to your local government code enforcement department.
  • CEQA: Concerns surrounding environmental review of projects under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) should be directed to the lead agency approving or implementing the project. CalEPA’s complaint system is not designed to handle CEQA concerns.
3. What information is useful for the agencies investigating my complaint?

Please try to provide as much information as possible to help investigators identify and address illegal environmental conditions.  In your complaint, try to answer the following questions:

  • Where did it happen? What is the street address or intersection? Can you describe the location to help investigators pinpoint where the violation occurred?  What city is the complaint located in?
  • What did you see, hear and smell? What types of chemicals or materials do you think were involved? What type of environmental damage took place?
  • How were the chemicals or materials disposed of? Were they buried, burned, abandoned, or poured into a body of water, onto the ground, or into a storm drain or sewer?
  • When did the activity occur, how frequently and for how long? Do you suspect it is likely to happen again?  If so, when?
  • Who is involved in the activity? Who owns the property or business? Who else knows what’s going on?  How can they be contacted?  Providing any available contact information is helpful, even if the information may be old.
  • Attach photos, videos, or documents that show what happened, the location of the activity, who is involved, and any damage caused by the activity.  Photos can be especially helpful when dealing with complaints that occurred in the past.
4. What happens to my complaint once I submit it?

Your complaint is sent to the appropriate state agency within CalEPA, depending on the nature of your concern and the type of issue you select (air, water, toxic substances, pesticides, or solid waste).  If you select multiple issues, the complaint is routed to multiple agencies.  The agencies look at the information you provide to determine whether they have authority over the issue.  If they do, they investigate through their usual enforcement process.

If the complaint is outside that state agency’s authority, but within the authority of another state or local agency, the complaint will be sent to that other agency for handling.  If the concern is outside the agency’s authority and another agency that might have authority over the issue cannot be identified, the complaint is marked “closed” in CalEPA’s system, see FAQ #8.

When the state agency refers a complaint to a local agency that shares jurisdiction over the environmental issue, the complaint remains open in CalEPA’s system until that local agency provides feedback to CalEPA on the outcome of its investigation.  CalEPA’s boards and departments share environmental enforcement authority with the following regional and local agencies:

  • Air
    Air Resources Board – Air Quality Management Districts/Air Pollution Control Districts
  • Water
    State Water Resources Control Board and Regional Water Quality Control Boards – local Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs) for underground storage tanks and various other local agencies depending on the issue
  • Pesticides
    Department of Pesticide Regulation – County Agricultural Commissioners’ Offices
  • Solid Waste
    CalRecycle – Local Enforcement Agencies
  • Toxic Substances
    Department of Toxic Substances Control – local Certified Unified Program Agencies (CUPAs)
5. What communications can I expect to receive about my complaint?

If you provide an email address in the complaint form, you will automatically receive three communications from CalEPA.

First, you will receive a confirmation email with your complaint number and an email address to contact if you have questions (complaints@calepa.ca.gov).

Fifteen days after submitting your complaint, you will receive an email listing the state or local agencies that are looking into your concern and their contact information.  If your complaint involves multiple environmental issues (affecting air, water, pesticides, toxics, or solid waste), multiple agency contacts will be listed in this email.

Once each agency assigned to look at your complaint has completed its review and “closed” the complaint, you will receive an email notifying you that the complaint has been closed.  This email includes a list of agencies that handled the concern and their contact information.  For information on why a complaint may have been closed, see FAQ #8.

6. How can I check the status of my complaint?

You can email complaints@calepa.ca.gov at any time to check the status of your complaint. Please include the complaint number in your email.

If you provided an email address on the complaint form and 15 days has passed from when you submitted the complaint, you will receive an email with an update on the status of your complaint. You may obtain more detailed information by contacting the agency or agencies that are listed in the email.

7. What if I have more information about my complaint after submitting it?

Please email complaints@calepa.ca.gov if you have more information to add to your complaint, including photos, documents, or new observations made after sending us your complaint. Please include the complaint number in your email.

8. I received an email saying my complaint was closed. What happened to my complaint?

When a compliant is received, a state agency or agencies will review the information you provide to determine whether the concern you raise warrants further investigation. If the concern is within that agency’s authority and warrants further investigation, the agency will pursue the investigation through its usual investigation and enforcement process. The complaint can be closed in CalEPA’s complaint system for several reasons described below.

Complaints That Are Transferred for Formal Investigation or Enforcement

Some agencies transfer the complaint outside of CalEPA’s complaint system into their own enforcement case management systems when a formal investigation is opened and continue to work on the complaint. When this happens, the complaint may be marked “closed” in CalEPA’s system and tracked through the enforcement databases maintained by the individual CalEPA agencies. Depending on the issue, it can take months or years to complete a full, formal investigation. During the investigation, some or all of the information relating to the investigation of the complaint may be kept confidential for law enforcement purposes.

Complaints That Are Investigated and Resolved

Complaints that are within the jurisdiction of the state agency reviewing it will be investigated by that agency and closed once the investigation is complete.  If the concern is outside the authority or jurisdiction of the state agency reviewing it, that agency will refer the complaint to the appropriate state or local agency. When the agency refers a complaint to a local agency that shares jurisdiction over the environmental issue (air, water, pesticides, solid waste, or toxic substances), the complaint remains open in CalEPA’s system until that local agency provides feedback on the outcome of its investigation. For a list of the agencies with which CalEPA’s boards and departments share environmental enforcement authority, see FAQ #4.

Complaints That Are Outside Jurisdiction

If the complaint is referred to a federal, state, or local agency not listed above, the complaint is usually marked “closed” in CalEPA’s system and the follow up on the complaint is left to that other agency.

Sometimes the agency reviewing the complaint is unable to identify another agency that has authority over the issue raised by the complaint. In this situation, it will mark the complaint “closed.”  For information on the types of complaints CalEPA’s boards and departments and close local partner agencies have authority to address, see FAQ #1.

Complaint Submitted with Insufficient Information

Factual information is very important in order to process a complaint.  Some complaints do not provide enough information for the agencies to follow up.  Please review FAQ #2 for the kinds of information that are useful for investigating agencies.  If an agency does not have sufficient information, a complaint will be closed.

Duplicate Complaints

Sometimes, CalEPA receives repeat separate complaints asserting the same concern. Duplicate complaints that do not provide additional information for investigation are marked “closed” in CalEPA’s system.

If you have additional information about a complaint that you’ve already submitted, please do not submit another complaint. Instead, you can send an email with the additional information to complaints@calepa.ca.gov. Please include the complaint number in your email.

Further Information

If you would like further information about what happened to your complaint, please contact the agencies listed in the email you received saying your complaint has been closed or email complaints@calepa.ca.gov. Please remember to provide the complaint number when you contact an agency.

9. Am I protected from retaliation if I am a whistleblower?

Whistleblowers are provided protection from employer retaliation under the California Labor Code for disclosing information to a government or law enforcement agency regarding a violation of a statute or regulation or refusing to participate in illegal activity.  For more information, see the Whistleblower Notice developed by the Department of Industrial Relations.

CalEPA and its boards and departments are subject to the Public Records Act.  Your personal information is generally protected from disclosure under that statute and CalEPA will not release your personal information to a member of the public asking for it unless we are mandated to do so by law.  For more information about what happens to the information you provide to CalEPA, please see FAQ #10.

10. What happens to my personal information I provide to CalEPA through the complaint form?

CalEPA and its boards and departments enforce laws that protect the public health and environment, often in concert with local government. CalEPA, the boards and departments within CalEPA, and other government agencies with environmental law enforcement authority use your information to ensure environmental concerns brought to the agency’s attention are addressed.

CalEPA and its boards and departments may share your information with other government agencies as permitted by law to further the investigation of your concern. Additionally, we must comply with the Public Records Act. The Act is a law that protects the public’s right to access records of government agencies, including complaints reported to the agency via its website. CalEPA will release information only as required by the Public Records Act.

You do not have to provide the personal information requested; you may submit your complaint anonymously. However, without your personal information, we may not be able to fully investigate your concern. When providing information or documents to CalEPA, please do not include unrequested personal information, such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, unnecessary health-related information, or credit card or financial information.

For more information, please see CalEPA’s privacy policy.