EPA Region 5

05/18/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 05/18/2023 10:55

EPA Launches Interactive Map of Sea Level Rise Around Hazardous Waste Sites Along the U.S. Coastline to Help Facilities and Communities Become More Resilient to Climate Change

EPA Launches Interactive Map of Sea Level Rise Around Hazardous Waste Sites Along the U.S. Coastline to Help Facilities and Communities Become More Resilient to Climate Change

May 18, 2023

Contact Information
EPA Press Office ([email protected])
WASHINGTON- Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a new data visualization to show the projected sea level rise around hazardous waste facilities within estimated flood zones along the U.S. coastline, as part of a whole-of-government approach to confronting the climate crisis and protecting communities.

According to the "2022 Interagency Sea Level Rise Technical Report," global mean sea level could rise between about one and seven feet by 2100. Sea level rise can threaten hazardous waste facilities, like landfills, along the U.S. coastline. Coastal flooding not only damages roads and homes, but also impacts human health, including by increasing the risk that drinking water, hazardous waste, and wastewater infrastructure will fail, putting people at risk of exposure to pathogens and harmful chemicals. More than 40% of Americans live near the coast, making it increasingly important for communities and facility personnel to plan for this eventuality.

"This data visualization shines a light on how the climate crisis intersects with and exacerbates significant environmental challenges that disproportionately affect overburdened, under-resourced communities," said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. "Knowledge is power, and this tool will help concentrate our efforts to reduce exposure to toxins, strengthen community resilience, and increase environmental justice."

EPA developed this tool to help coastal communities, states, regions, and hazardous waste facility managers to better prepare for the impacts of climate change; independently assess their sea level rise vulnerabilities; and help inform actions they can take to become more resilient to climate change. The data visualization also references information from the "2022 Interagency Sea Level Rise Technical Report" about various scenarios that will affect sea level rise over time. These scenarios depend on several factors, including future greenhouse gas emissions that can impact global warming and the rate of sea level rise.

According to EPA's recent "Biennial Report" hazardous waste data, in 2019, 1.6 million tons of hazardous waste were managed at facilities that would be affected by five or more feet of sea level rise. That includes waste from over 55 facilities. This height range falls in between the intermediate-low to intermediate-high scenarios of sea level rise predictions in the Interagency Report.

Identifying the hazardous waste facilities that could be affected by rising water levels will help both communities and facility managers mitigate potential pollution risks resulting from contaminant release. This action is particularly important for communities that are already experiencing disproportionately high pollution levels, as well as the resulting adverse health and environmental impacts. Communities with residents that are predominantly of color, indigenous, or lower income are also more likely to live near hazardous waste facilities, leaving them disproportionately vulnerable to toxic leaks and contamination caused by inundation.

To help address these local resilience and environmental justice concerns, EPA continues to provide necessary tools and resources that local decision makers can use to identify their vulnerabilities and consider climate change risks in their planning processes and projects.

For example, EPA offers guidance to help facility managers and communities develop debris management plans before natural disasters occur, including hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, wildfires, and winter storms. According to the "2022 Interagency Sea Level Rise Technical Report," predicted sea level rise will create storm surge heights that increase and reach farther inland. In fact, by 2050, "moderate" (typically damaging) flooding is expected to occur, on average, more than 10 times as often as it does today and can be intensified by local factors.

Specific actions that can be taken by hazardous waste facilities to help prevent releases of hazardous waste from natural disaster damages include:

  • Constructing physical barriers (e.g., sand caps, retaining walls), to contain contaminants that are suitable for an identified climate threat (e.g., flooding, intense storms, fires).
  • Placing engineering controls (e.g., pumps, electrical equipment) in locations that have a low likelihood of being affected by the identified climate threat.
  • Designing containment, monitoring and treatment systems, and subgrade infrastructure to withstand changing conditions from the identified climate threat; and
  • Designing landfill or remediation caps (covers over contaminated material) that are resilient to the identified threat, e.g., use drought-resistant plants for vegetated soil caps for long-term erosion control.

Explore the new data visualization which shares projections up to the year 2100 as well as resources for what communities can do.

For information on climate change science, impacts, and indicators, what EPA is doing about climate change, and what individuals and businesses can do, visit EPA's Climate Change webpage.

Check out the Interagency Report's Application Guide, which helps individuals and organizations discover the best approaches for their communities.

EPA offers a multitude of additional resources to support local governments, including an interactive resource to help local governments effectively deliver services to their communities as the climate changes, an environmental justice screening and mapping tool, guidance on planning for natural disaster debris, an interactive all hazards waste management planning tool and guidance to help coastal communities become more climate ready.