If you have a camera and a soft spot for the environment, consider yourself deputized by the Green Police.
In recognition of Earth Day, April 22, the Howard County Group of the Sierra Club is sponsoring the Worst Polluter Photo Contest, an effort to flush out pollution with a posse of shutterbugs.
Environmental deputies will have until April 20 to find an illegal trash dump, polluted stream or other environmental calamity, photograph it and get the film processed and delivered to local Sierra Club members.
Rod Barr of Fulton, a photographer and club member, prompted the idea for the contest at a meeting of the club last fall.
Mr. Barr showed members a slide show of construction sites in the Clarksville area where he saw problems with silt runoff, which can damage the ecosystems of the county's rivers and eventually cause problems in the Chesapeake Bay.
Members who saw the slide show were inspired by its possibilities and suggested enlisting watchful citizens and their cameras to fight pollution.
"It's part social and fun and part serious business," said Mr. Barr, citing construction runoff, deforestation and unofficial trash dumps as possible photo subjects.
In recent years, the Sierra Club has alerted officials to local environmental problems.
One example is the areas along the Middle Patuxent River in North Laurel rutted by four-wheel-drive trucks, causing silt to choke streams and kill plants.
By documenting problems, club members are hoping to give county regulators evidence they can use to crack down on such violations.
Mr. Barr said the club considered -- and rejected -- showing the photos first to elected officials, but decided that would embarrass the regulators.
"We wouldn't go over their heads; the intent here is not to punish anybody, it's to try to get responsive action," he said.
That helpful attitude won the appreciation of David M. Hammerman, director of the county Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits. His department is responsible for enforcing regulations controlling runoff from construction sites, which Mr. Barr said is perhaps the county's biggest environmental problem.
"We would welcome any help that they want to give us," Mr. Hammerman said. "If [the photo is] something revealing and it's a violation of the sediment and erosion control regulations, we would send an inspector out."
Often what a lay person sees on a construction site might not be a violation, however. For instance, a sediment fence run over by heavy equipment may be in an area that has other sediment control techniques at work, Mr. Hammerman said.
One thing that would be helpful to inspectors, he said, would be information to lead them to the construction site and the precise location where the photo was taken.
Winners of the Sierra Club photo contest -- first, second, third prizes and honorable mention -- will be announced at a potluck awards banquet on Earth Day.
They shouldn't expect any glitzy prizes, just Sierra Club T-shirts and, if winners are not members, a free membership worth $35.
Submissions should be no larger than 5 by 7 inches and include the name and phone number of the contestant.
They should be sent to Rod Barr, 7081 Pindell School Road, Fulton, 20759 to be received no later than April 20.