Dec 13, 2019

Report Identifies Flooding as Biggest Threat to Superfund Sites

A report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified flooding as the biggest threat to Superfund sites.

flood control

A report published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that climate impacts threaten 6 in 10 Superfund sites overseen by the U.S. EPA. 

The most common risk identified in Monday’s GAO report is flooding, according to the Washington Post. At least 783 sites around the country were found to have a great risk of flooding due to rainier conditions.

At least 945 toxic waste sites across the country face escalating risks from rising seas, intense inland flooding, forest fires and other climate-fueled disasters, according to the report.

President Trump’s administration rejected a recommendation to clarify how preparing toxic sites to withstand the impacts of climate change is part of the EPA’s mission, reported the Washington Post.

“The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at non-federal [National Priorities List] sites,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright in a statement.

“The report raises critical issues that are not being addressed,” said Nancy Loeb, director of the Environmental Advocacy Center at Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law. “It’s a huge shortcoming not to take climate change into consideration.”

Sites near 100 year and 500 year flood plains, as well as those one meter or less above sea level, are especially at risk, according to the Washington Post. Additionally, at least 187 properties in coastal states are vulnerable to storm surges brought by Category 4 and 5 hurricanes.

“This was a fairly significant concern of ours during the Obama administration,” said Mathy Stanislaus, a former EPA assistant administrator who oversaw the Superfund program under President Barack Obama. “That adaptation should be a core part of the standard operating practices for all of EPA’s cleanup projects.”

After the release of the report, Senate Democrats sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler demanding an explanation for agency leaders’ “failure to embrace addressing climate change as a strategic objective,” reported the Washington Post

EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said the agency is in the process of implementing a climate resilience action plan at Superfund sites, however.  

“The EPA recognizes the importance of ensuring Superfund site cleanups are resilient in the face of existing risks and extreme weather events and the agency has taken measures to include vulnerability analyses and adaptation planning into Superfund activities,” said the EPA in response to the findings.

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