Report: Virginia Superfund sites inadequately protected from climate change

By Sean Galvin

November 20, 2019

A government watchdog group has found that 15 Virginia Superfund sites are vulnerable to extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change. According to a study by the Government Accountability Office, an independent government agency, the sites are not adequately protected from natural disasters and pose a risk to the public.

A Superfund site is a contaminated location where hazardous waste has been “dumped, left out in the open, or otherwise improperly managed,” according to the EPA. The term “Superfund” references the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, legislation passed in response to the Love Canal Tragedy and other environmental disasters that shook the nation in the 1970s.

In its report, the GAO said Virginia’s Superfund sites were insufficiently protected from flooding and storm surges resulting from increased, heavier rains and rising sea levels. The risks go beyond the environment; because the sites surveyed contain deadly pollutants like lead and lead oxide, there are also implications for human health.

The concern is a repeat of events like in 2017, when Hurricane Harvey damaged several Houston Superfund locations, causing them to leak contaminants across the region.

The GAO’s study in Virginia was part of a nationwide analysis examining the potential risks facing Superfund locations in a climate-changed world. In its report, the agency found that 60% of sites across the country were vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

The GAO went so far as to criticize the EPA in its report, saying the organization’s strategic plan doesn’t adequately address the threats posed by climate change. The EPA, currently lead by Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, has rolled back numerous environmental protections since President Trump took office.

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