Study Shows Over 1,000 Superfund Sites at Risk of Flooding by 2100

For Immediate Release 
Contact: Jeff Tittel, NJ Sierra Club, 609-558-9100

A new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists concludes that more than 800 hazardous Superfund sites near the Atlantic and Gulf coasts are at risk of flooding in the next 20 years, even with low rates of sea level rise.  More than 1,000 of the sites, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be at risk for flooding by 2100 if carbon emissions continue on their current trajectory, triggering high rates of sea level rise, according to the study. New Jersey is the biggest hotspot for having Superfund sites close to the coastline. 

“The new study on Superfund Sites in flood prone areas is a serious wake up call.  With climate impacts increasing, flooding and sea level risings, these sites will become a toxic disaster for communities. This is especially concerning for New Jersey because we have the most Superfund Sites near the coastline. American Cyanamid site in Bridgewater, for example flooded during Hurricane Irene and other Superfund sites like Diamond Alkali Co. in Newark, Ciba Geigy in Toms River, Imperial Chemical in Edgewater, Quantas Site in Bridgewater, Welsbach & General Gas Mantle in Camden, will be at risk of flooding and sea level rise by within the next 20 years,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. 

A study released last year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office also concluded Superfund sites were vulnerable to climate change threats. In that study, researchers looked not only at sea level rise, but hurricanes, inland flooding and wildfire threats, and determined that 60 percent of Superfund sites across the county were threatened. New Jersey has 118 Superfund Sites, more than any state in the nation. A congressional watchdog agency named 141 New Jersey sites in a national survey of more than 1,500 that have been or are still subject to environmental cleanup, and said that many of the Garden State locations could be damaged by floods or fires that are caused by climate change.

“When these Superfund sites flood, they will wash all kinds of toxic chemicals into streams, rivers and even homes. The flooding while undermine caps or destabilize them that will result in toxic chemicals washing into nearby groundwater and water sources. Where contaminated material has been capped rather than removed, flooding will cause the caps to fail, allowing the contaminants to enter groundwater. We still have major concerns with EPA’s plan to clean up the Cyanamid Superfund Site. This is not a clean-up plan, the site will continue to stay contaminated and continue to cause problems in the Raritan river and in the community. The cap will wash out, leaking TCE and other harmful chemicals into the environment. This area is on the banks of the Raritan River and in the floodplain so by capping the site they are really playing Russian Roulette,” said Tittel.

Flooding can increase the chances that dangerous chemicals can be released and contaminate nearby land and water, putting communities at risk of adverse health effects. Especially hard hit could be more than 17 million people of color and low-income who live within five miles of a Superfund site facing flooding risk, according to the report. The report also found that 300,000 more low-income households than expected for counties along the East and Gulf Coasts fall within five miles of Superfund sites that would experience extreme coastal flooding by 2040 in the low sea level rise scenario and approximately 486,000 to 2.5 million in the intermediate and high-risk scenario.

“The report also shows that Environmental Justice and low-income communities will be hit the hardest. Millions of people living within five miles of these Superfund sites are communities of color and low-income. In New Jersey, most of our toxic sites, airports, incinerators, cement plants, and other major polluting facilities are located in low-income, minority, and overburdened communities. Disadvantaged and minority communities have been a dumping ground and get facilities that no one wants,” said Tittel. “These Environmental Justice communities receive a disproportioned amount of with pollution and many don’t have the money to clean it up. That is why legislation like S232(Singleton) that would help protect disadvantaged and minority communities from toxic sites.” 

The report calls to task the president and EPA officials and says they must take immediate action to incorporate climate science into the decision-making process when considering the effects of future floods on Superfund sites.

“Trump’s war on our environment is a setback to effective protections for Superfund sites across the nation. Trump has cut funding to clean up toxic sites and has rolled back environmental protections and oversight. That is why it is critical that our Congressional leadership re-instate the Superfund tax to go after sites that have been abandoned and make polluters pay to clean them up. Governor Murphy and the DEP need to move forward when it comes to climate change, flooding, and reaching 100% renewable and zero carbon goals,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “New Jersey is one of the most vulnerable states when it comes to Superfund Sites impacted by flooding and sea level rise. We need to act now before it is too late.”