Climate change puts hundreds of Superfund sites at risk

Climate Cast


Hundreds of toxic superfund sites are vulnerable to extreme weather. I'M NPR chief meteorologist Paul Kutner here with climate cast. Hurricane, Harvey Dump Forty five to sixty inches of rain on the Houston area in two thousand seventeen the extreme floodwaters inundated more than one hundred and fifty thousand homes. They also breached toxic superfund site washing deadly chemicals down. In concentrations more than two thousand times. The EPA required cleanup level according to inside climate news. Just. How many of these superfund sites are risk and exposed to these extreme weather events? Frank Coal Ash is the climate director at the Minnesota Pollution? Control Agency. Frank Welcome to climate cast. Hi, Paul Thank you for having me on today the Government Accountability Office reported last year that nine hundred, forty, five superfund sites across the US are vulnerable to hurricanes flooding, sea level rise increased precipitation or wildfires. I see fourteen of those are in Minnesota. What is it about the location of these toxic sites that makes them does too extreme weather events. What we know with a changing climate in Minnesota is that we are seeing heavier rainfall which presents a risk for flooding at some of these sites and the impacts to both surface waters near the sites and potentially groundwater near these sites which we are. Managing and controlling for the toxic chemicals that have been found there. So it's really within Minnesota and the way that our climate is changing is looking at how that precipitation regime is changing, and we've seen that in the mid West here in Nebraska in twenty eighteen, there was a superfund site there that was impacted by the massive flooding. It didn't leach any toxins, but I'm wondering has Minnesota seen any close calls like that? I'm not aware of any close calls that we've seen regarding specific flooding events in Minnesota but certainly, that risk exists anytime that we are seeing a changing climate like we have in that, we're trying to manage sites that have these toxic chemicals on them from past pollution events that we're trying to maintain keep people protected from especially our most vulnerable populations, and we know that one of the biggest climate changes were observing recording in Minnesota are these mega rainfall events these six to eight plus in Sch- rainfall events how is that being incorporated into your? Planning for these sites yes, and that is the kind of work that we're just really getting started with looking at our ability to understand what's going to happen with a rainfall like that and and is the water going to go and where are we at risk for a significant floods? How will that rainfall interact with any of the protective coverings or protections that have been built around the superfund sites and how that may impact the contaminants as they they are moving on the site, and hopefully we're able to keep them from moving away from her saying. Frank superfund sites were talking about clean up. After the fact, I'm curious how climate change can be taken into account before potentially hazardous developments break ground. Yes, and that is an area that we're particularly looking at right now we are providing funding to cities to be able to do climate resiliency and adaptation plans to be able to identify how the rainfall and precipitation flooding events are going to impact not just contamination contaminated sites but the infrastructure that we rely upon many people are concerned about potential pollution from mining projects in northern. MINNESOTA, in sensitive areas like the boundary waters, how can we be sure future extreme rainfall events won't breach containment of those proposed sites. We we continue to look at the best science and the best research about how we can we predict what these large rainfall events are going to look like, and then build that into the planning processes our permitting processes, frank coal, ash climate director for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Thanks so much. Thank you.

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