A Perfect Storm: When tropical storms meet toxic waste

Media Contacts
Jenna Stevens

Josh Chetwynd

Hurricanes and tropical storms crossed over 800 toxic “Superfund” waste sites last year, including 78 in Florida

Environment Florida Research and Policy Center

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— As “National Hurricane Preparedness Week” kicks off, many communities across Florida are still dealing with the devastating effects of last year’s record-shattering hurricane season. To help prepare for this year, the Florida PIRG Education Fund and Environment Florida 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.   

“Every year, Floridians contend with the risk of losing their homes and their lives from devastating storms. They shouldn’t have to worry that flood damage is going to also mean toxic waste contamination,” said Jenna Stevens, state director for Environment Florida Research and Policy Center. “To clean up these sites and protect the American people, we need a ‘Polluter Pays’ tax on the industries producing these contaminants. Floridians should not be living with the financial or health burden of toxic waste sites.”

The report, entitled A Perfect Storm: When tropical storms meet toxic waste, pulls together data from the National Hurricane Center (NHC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to show that 810 sites were in areas affected by hurricanes and tropical storms during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, including 78 in Florida. 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

“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 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.

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.