A Perfect Storm: When tropical storms meet toxic waste

Media Contacts
Drew Ball

Hurricanes and tropical storms crossed over 800 toxic “Superfund” waste sites last year, including 22 in North Carolina

Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center

RALEIGH– As “National Hurricane Preparedness Week” kicks off, many communities across North Carolina are still recovering from the devastating effects of last year’s record-shattering hurricane season. To help prepare for this year, the Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center and the North Carolina PIRG Education Fund 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, North Carolinians contend with the risk of losing their homes and their lives from devastating storms. They shouldn’t have to worry that flood damage could also mean toxic waste contamination,” said Drew Ball, Director of Environment North Carolina Research and Policy Center. “To clean up these Superfund sites and protect the American people, we need a ‘Polluter Pays’ tax on the industries producing these contaminants. North Carolinians 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 twenty-two in North Carolina. 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 thirty named storms, eleven of which made landfall in the United States, the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season put what scientists expect may be a new normal due to climate change on destructive display. 

“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,” 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 in its landmark infrastructure plan. The report’s final recommendation also calls for that step. 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.