Energy & Environment

Hundreds of hazardous waste sites could face flooding in next 20 years: report

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Hundreds of hazardous waste sites in the U.S. are at risk of future flooding, which could lead to the spread of contaminants, according to a new report. 

The Union of Concerned Scientists says in a fact sheet released Tuesday that extreme coastal flooding could pose a risk to 876 sites regulated under the Superfund Enterprise Management System (SEMS) if there is even a low rate of sea level rise during the next 20 years. 

A moderate sea level rise rate would put 918 sites at risk, the researchers found. 

“We can expect Superfund sites to be vulnerable to flooding even if we take drastic measures in the near future to limit heat-trapping emissions and the corresponding effects of sea level rise,” they wrote. 

Sites listed in the SEMS database are either being cleaned up or are under consideration for cleanup under the country’s Superfund program, though not all will be designated Superfund sites whose cleanup is prioritized. 

The report notes that of SEMS sites, about 2,000 are within 25 miles of either the East or Gulf coast, though flooding can also impact facilities that are further inland. 

The researchers recommended that the government undertake resiliency efforts at these sites to prevent them from being flooded. 

“Superfund sites and the vulnerable communities located nearby will be negatively affected by future extreme coastal flooding,” they wrote. “Resiliency measures must be put in place now.”

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 issued an adaptation plan for sites that could see impacts of climate change, including sea level rise.

The plan involves creating a way to evaluate and boost protectiveness on a site-specific basis.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has been touting the agency’s efforts on Superfund cleanup, noting in a recent op-ed that the agency has fully or partly removed 57 sites from the National Priorities List.

“This is significant because removing a site from the list is not easily done. It is a rigorous process that requires state concurrence as well as public comment,” he wrote. 

There are about 1,300 Superfund sites, including 157 federal sites, remaining. 

Tags Andrew Wheeler Hazardous waste Superfund Union of Concerned Scientists

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