The Environment Agency has announced a £5 million specialist environmental crime taskforce to tackle illegal scrapyards and other rule-breaking waste sites.
The unit will clamp down on around 600 illegal waste sites in England and Wales, including unlicensed scrapyards with giant piles of cars, timber or construction waste.
The sites - which also include tyre dumps, landfills and concrete crushing plants - can pose a threat to the environment, contaminating land and rivers with oil and toxic chemicals. They can also give off toxic fumes and cause a disturbance with noisy activities.
More than half of the sites are within 50 metres of schools, homes or sensitive environmental areas, including rivers and habitats for rare wildlife, it estimated.
The taskforce, which will hire around 90 staff including former police officers, will have a budget of about £5 million for its first two years.
It will target the organised criminals who sometimes run the sites to fund other criminal activity, using fake signs to give an impression of respectability, the agency said.
Environment minister Lord Taylor said: "These illegal waste sites do untold damage to the environment and cause misery for local people that have to live with toxic fumes, noise at all hours and unbearable smells. We are cracking down on those sites that blight our communities and will work with the police and other partners to bring the criminals behind them to justice."
Dr Paul Leinster, chief executive of the agency, said: "Waste crime is a serious offence that poses a risk to human health and can damage the environment.
"The Environment Agency is working with all enforcement agencies to stamp it out. If you're involved in illegal waste activities you should be looking over your shoulder and expecting a visit from our enforcement officers."
The agency asked those with information about illegal waste activities to call 0800 807060 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.