Online video leads to fine of Gladbrook man for illegal waste disposal

A YouTube video purportedly shows several people illegally disposing of fluorescent lights in a pit in Tama County. SCREENSHOT OF VIDEO COURTESY OF IOWA CAPITAL DISPATCH

GLADBROOK – A video posted on YouTube that shows several people breaking mercury-containing fluorescent lights into a burn pit in east-central Iowa prompted state regulators to investigate the situation and issue a $2,000 fine, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

The video — which was posted in September 2022 by a YouTube user who goes by the name “Magic Mullet” and has more than 260,000 views — purportedly shows the illegal disposal of the 8-foot-long fluorescent tubes at an acreage near Gladbrook in Tama County.

The video, which is more than 20 minutes long, includes exuberant dialogue about the improvement of lighting at a large machine shed used to work on vehicles but also shows the delighted disposal of the old fluorescent tubes from the shed in a burn pit.

The people depicted in the video take turns smashing the tubes together or tossing them into the air.

“To infinity!” one says, lofting a tube over the pit.

The day after the video was posted on YouTube on Sept. 11, someone emailed a complaint to the DNR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that included a link to the video, according to a recent DNR administrative order.

Bill Gross, a senior environmental specialist who investigated that complaint, said it appeared the 10-foot-deep pit had been recently dug to dispose of waste from renovations at the site.

He noted lumber, insulation, household wastes, tire remnants and other items in the pit, the DNR order said.

The DNR fined Presley Bland of rural Gladbrook $2,000.

Bland agreed to transport the remaining waste in the pit to a landfill and was unaware of the potential for the broken fluorescent lights to contaminate the ground.

Bland “thought that since the fluorescent bulbs were only 10 years old they did not contain mercury,” the order said.

Small amounts of mercury — which is toxic to humans — are an essential component of all fluorescent bulbs, according to the EPA.