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CHICAGO — As “National Hurricane Preparedness Week” kicks off, many communities across the United States are still dealing with the devastating effects of last year’s record-shattering Atlantic hurricane season. To help prepare for this year, the U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Environment America Research & Policy Center released a report Thursday highlighting the serious threat posed by toxic “Superfund” waste sites in the paths of hurricanes and tropical storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.
“Destructive hurricanes regularly rip through Superfund toxic waste sites, which hold some of the most hazardous chemicals on Earth. It’s just been dumb luck so far that this hasn’t caused even bigger environmental and public health catastrophes than we’ve seen so far,” said Faye Park, president of U.S. PIRG Education Fund. “We urgently need to increase funding for the EPA’s Superfund cleanup program by reinstating a ‘Polluter Pays’ tax on the industries that produce the toxic waste in the first place. Why should you and I pay to clean up their mess?”
The report, entitled A Perfect Storm: When tropical storms meet toxic waste, pulled together data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to show that 810 sites fell in areas affected by hurricanes and tropical storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. Additionally, the report made recommendations to the EPA for improving and expediting cleanup at these sites.
The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season in recorded history. With a record-breaking 30 named storms, 11 of which made landfall in the United States, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season put on a destructive display of what we may come to expect as a new normal due to climate change.
“Toxic waste sites near our rivers and coasts are accidents waiting to happen,” said John Rumpler, Environment America Research & Policy Center’s Clean Water program director. “Protecting our drinking water will require phasing out the use of dangerous chemicals in the first place.”
The Biden administration has already called on Congress to pass a “Polluter Pays” tax to fund the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program — which was the report’s final recommendation — in its landmark infrastructure plan. Lawmakers introduced Polluter Pays legislation at the end of April to the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. The bills have the support of several environmental and consumer groups, including U.S. PIRG, Environment America, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks and the League of Conservation Voters.
“After a hurricane, people may have to rebuild their homes and their lives. No one should have to worry that flood damage is going to also mean toxic waste contamination,” U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s Make it Toxic Free advocate Danielle Melgar. “The Polluter Pays tax is the first step to protect the American people and alleviate the massive health and financial burden from Superfund toxic waste sites.”
As we approach the upcoming 2021 Atlantic hurricane season, which will officially begin on June 1, 2021, the report urges the public to inform themselves about nearby Superfund toxic waste sites and take appropriate precautions. The EPA’s Superfund webpage makes announcements about potential damage to Superfund sites during hurricanes and can provide information in the event that contamination has spread from the site during a storm.
Read the report here.