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Climate Change Worsens Toxic Exposures

Flooded neighborhood
Photo credit: AP/ Jason Dearen

By Leila Waid.

Climate change is one of the leading environmental challenges facing our world today. This will wreak havoc on all aspects of society and in some instances it already has from increasing droughts and wildfires to stronger storms and hurricanes. But one consequence of climate change that gets overlooked is its effects on toxic waste sites.   

Toxic waste sites are those where the waste disposed is dangerous to human health. Waste is defined as being hazardous when it “may leach hazardous concentrations of toxic substances into the environment when disposed.” The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies such hazardous locations as a Superfund site. Currently, there are 1,336 active Superfund sites – meaning there is still toxic waste present at the site. There are also 38 proposed locations that could become a Superfund site.

These Superfund sites can be found in almost every state, excluding only North Dakota. The Northeast region of the country has the highest concentration of waste sites – with New Jersey coming in at number 1 with a total of 115 sites. On the West Coast, California has the most at 96 sites.

How can climate change impact all these different waste sites? One example is that flooding and heavy rain can free debris from coal operations that would then contaminate the groundwater in surrounding areas. That contamination can then further spread through storm surges or rising sea levels. After that has happened it becomes more difficult to track and clean the toxins.

Wildfires are another concern for toxic waste sites. For example, California has a Superfund site with extremely high levels of asbestos. A “worst-case” scenario for this site includes a scenario where the wildfire smoke carries off the asbestos to hundreds of miles away –  impacting thousands of people in the vicinity who might inhale the toxin-contaminated smoke. 

What can you do to act on this issue today? Contact your representative and let them know you support bill H.R. 1444, titled Preparing Superfund for Climate Change Act of 2023. The bill would require that clean-up efforts consider the impacts of climate change when deciding the proper clean-up techniques.

Homepage News Archive

Sign the Petition Demanding a DNC Climate Debate!

Why isn’t the DNC holding a climate debate? 
In the past two weeks, climate change activists have been furiously protesting after Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Tom Perez announced that he did not support the Democratic party having a climate specific debate for the 202o elections.
According to Perez, holding a climate debate would be putting too much focus on a single issue, especially when there are candidates like Jay Inslee who are focusing their entire campaign around climate change.
However, environmental organizations don’t see climate as only  a single issue, rather the issue that will define everything in the coming decade. 314 Action pledged $100,000 to put on a climate debate, and 15 out of the 23 Democratic candidates want to see a climate-specific debate.
As Vox reports, many democratic voters want to make climate a central issue in the 2020 election, especially since it was hardly brought up in the 2016 election cycle. In Iowa, three quarters of Iowa Democratic caucus voters wanted to see climate change treated as the single most threatening risk to humanity. <Read more>
Sign the petition for the DNC to hold a climate debate!
Most specifically, Sunrise Movement is currently holding a sit in in the DNC protesting the organization’s lack of movement on the climate debate front. Sunrise Movement is a an organization building a network of young people to create an army fighting climate change.
In 2019, fighting climate change is more important than ever. The midwest is flooding, more temperature anomalies have been reported, and large chunks of the polar ice caps are breaking off. What’s even worse is that climate change has the potential to have impact marginalized communities the most. No matter your political affiliations, it’s important to discuss this issue across the aisle.
Sunrise Movement is circulating a petition to demand the DNC hold a climate debate. Click here to sign the petition.

Homepage News Archive Water News

Virginia Governor Proposes New Steps to Address Sea Level Rise

“I will propose legislation to dedicate the revenue generated by our carbon pollution reduction rule to adaptive infrastructure,” Governor Northam said at a speech in Williamsburg last week. “Instead of sending tens of millions of dollars back to the companies creating the pollution, we should set those funds aside, take the chance to begin tackling these problems in a meaningful way.”
Executive Order 24, released today, lays out a series of actions the Commonwealth will undertake to limit the impact of flooding, extreme weather events, and also wildfires. This includes improving resilience of state-owned buildings by taking sea level rise projections into account, as well as creating a long-overdue “Virginia Coastal Resilience Master Plan” that will detail specific actions to adapt and protect Virginia’s coastal regions.
A big win for Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN ) who first proposed this idea in 2014 and has been advocating for it nonstop ever since. Read more.


EPA Orders Evacuations As Industrial Toxins Found In Florence Flood Waters

As communities along the Gulf Coast await Hurricane Michael, it’s easy to forget the devastation that Hurricane Florence wrought on North and South Carolina. As described in the news story by Ring of Fire, “It is easy to forget about the plight of the Carolinas with all of the insanity taking place in Washington, D.C., but for the people who were impacted by Hurricane Florence, that’s all that matters right now. And while we weren’t paying attention, the EPA was testing flood waters and found that many areas are being impacted by potentially deadly corporate toxins that have leached into the flood waters, threatening the health of everyone in their way.” Read more

Backyard Talk

Linking Antarctic Ice Melt to Coastal Flooding

A landmark study published this month in the science journal Nature combined the work of 80 scientists from 42 institutions including some of the leading experts in Antarctic climate research and concluded that Antarctica has lost nearly 3 trillion tons of ice since 1992. According to CBS News, this is enough water to cover the state of Texas 13 feet deep. While it is no surprise that the Antarctic continent is losing land mass, it is surprising to learn how quickly the ice has been melting.
Using decades of satellite measurements, the researchers found that that from 1992 through 2011, the Antarctic continental ice melted at a rate of 76 billion tons per year. Since that time however, the rate has jumped to 219 billion tons per year. This data indicates that the rate of ice melt has nearly tripled in the past 5 years.
The study provides extraordinary evidence of how and why Antarctica’ glaciers, ice shelves and sea ice are changing and triggering an increase in the continent’s contribution to global sea level rise. Warm ocean water is melting the ice shelves and causing them to collapse. This rapid melting of the Antarctic ice shelves is already having a serious impact on coastal cities, especially on the east coast of the United States. A recent editorial in the Washington Post warned, “As Antarctica melts, North America will take a particularly hard wallop. Melting ice shrinks Antarctica and, therefore, its gravitational field. Without as much mass pulling ocean water south, sea levels will rise farther north as the oceans redistribute … Coastal cities need to start preparing now.”
This concern was echoed in a report published earlier this year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which warned that high tide flooding will become routine by 2100. The report says that “high tide flooding will occur every other day (182 days of the year) or more often … in coastal areas along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.” NOAA recommended that coastal cites need guidance about flooding to inform preparedness and resource budgeting. Flooding affects low-lying areas and puts at risk exposed assets or infrastructure such as roads, harbors, beaches, public storm-, waste- and fresh-water systems and private and commercial properties. The report discusses how more and more cities are becoming increasingly exposed and more vulnerable to high tide flooding, which is rapidly increasing in frequency, depth and extent along many U.S. coastlines. Dramatic coastal flooding events have already become common events in the Mid-Atlantic States, the Carolinas, Florida and the Northeast.
The Antarctic study is the second in a series of assessments planned by a team of international scientists working with NASA. This study is unique in that the research team looked at ice loss in 24 different ways using 10 to 15 satellites, as well as ground and air measurements and computer simulations. The data generated by multiple measuring techniques were evaluated and the differences reconciled until the group came to agreement on the estimates.
While the Washington Post commented that the study “produced findings that even the most circumspect critics of climate science should not be able to ignore,” many climate deniers will still choose to ignore this report. There is consistently new and overwhelming evidence that climate change is impacting many lives and economies. It’s good that many cities and states can see the handwriting on the wall along with the water line left by the receding flood water and are taking action.

Backyard Talk News Archive

What is the road ahead for Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria?

On Wednesday, September 20, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit to Puerto Rico– virtually destroying most of its infrastructure and plunging Puerto Ricans into a humanitarian crisis. About 97% of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million population is without power, and about half without running water. Let’s not forget that these are American citizens we are talking about.
The Trump Administration’s response has been significantly slower and less effective than the response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma. President Trump tweeted about the situation on Monday, stating that,“Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
His lack of empathy towards a U.S. territory struggling to survive following a disaster is alarming, even for him. Focusing on the massive debt held by Puerto Rico, whose economy is now even more ravaged than it was before, is just cruel but unacceptable.
Gov. Ricardo Rossell of Puerto Rico urged Congress to approve a commensurate aid package. A week after the hurricane, FEMA put out a statement that they have airplanes and ships loaded with meals, water and generators headed to the island.
In addition to the ongoing crisis, the Guajataca Dam in the island’s northwest corner has suffered a “critical infrastructure failure,” which poses immediate flooding threats to about 70,000 people. While the majority of residents in the potential flood zone have evacuated, efforts are being made to evacuate periphery areas.
The path for Puerto Rico ahead is uncertain. Its power grid is almost entirely wiped out, and has proven to lack resilience. Many experts on disaster response urge for the opportunity to be taken to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid from the ground up– a project that would require billions of dollars.
Not to mention, there are 23 Superfund sites on the island that likely have contaminated soil and groundwater. Unexploded bombs, bullets, and projectiles are among the toxic contents of these Superfund sites, specifically on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques which was used by the military as a bomb-test site.
In the southern coastal town of Guayama, a five-story pile of coal ash has been sitting next to a low-income, minority community of 45,000 people. This ash contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and chromium. The company responsible is Applied Energy Systems (AES), which was ordered to remove the pile prior to the hurricane but whether this was done is unclear. It is highly likely that this toxic ash has contaminated the surrounding land water sources.
At this point, we must continue to urge the U.S. government to provide ongoing aid to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Be sure to check back with CHEJ on the front of environmental justice for Puerto Ricans following this humanitarian disaster.
Click on the below link to see how you can help the victims of Hurricane Maria: