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A Perfect Storm: When tropical storms meet toxic waste

Hurricanes and tropical storms crossed over 800 toxic “Superfund” waste sites last year, including 20 in Maryland
for Immediate Release

Baltimore --- As “National Hurricane Preparedness Week” kicks off, many communities across the east coast are still dealing with the devastating effects of last year’s record-shattering hurricane season. To help prepare for this year, the Maryland PIRG Foundation and Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center released a report  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, Marylanders contend with the damaging effects of storms and flooding. We shouldn’t have to worry that flood damage is going to also mean toxic waste contamination in our communities,” said Maryland PIRG Foundation Director Emily Scarr. “To clean up these sites and protect public health, it’s time for polluting industries to start paying up. No Marylander, or anyone, 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 20 in Maryland. 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

“Marylanders are acutely aware of the increased threat of storms and flooding, a devastating impact of climate change,” explained Environment Maryland Research and Policy Associate Mariah Mackenzie, “With flooding now a new normal for communities in Baltimore, and throughout the state, the need to clean up these toxic waste sites has taken on a renewed urgency.”

The Biden administration has already called on Congress to pass a “Polluter Pays” tax to fund the Superfund toxic waste cleanup program --- which is the report’s final recommendation --- in his landmark infrastructure plan. Additionally, lawmakers introduced Polluter Pays legislation at the end of April to the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill has 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.

“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?”

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.

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