Nation & World

EPA is assessing threat to some, but not all, Superfund sites in hurricane’s path

The Environmental Protection Agency is assessing the vulnerability of at least 40 toxic waste sites that could be damaged by Hurricane Florence in Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. But that review does not include dozens of inland Superfund sites that potentially could be flooded by the storm’s fluctuating path.

The Superfund sites include 29 in Virginia, six in North Carolina and five in South Carolina. All were apparently chosen because they sit close to the coast and could potentially release toxins following a damaging storm surge. But Florence is also expected to cause flooding deep inland in South Carolina, Georgia and other states. This flooding could extend to neighborhoods, industrial areas and Superfund sites that have never flooded before.

Following Hurricane Harvey, the EPA came under sharp criticism for not quickly sending agency personnel to toxic waste sites in Houston inundated by the storm’s drenching rains. Flooding and other storm damage can potentially rupture the “caps” built atop toxic waste sites, allowing contaminants to escape.

John Konkus, an EPA spokesman, declined to comment when asked if last year’s criticism prompted EPA to announce the ongoing Superfund review. Konkus said agency assessment of vulnerable waste sites is standard procedure prior to hurricanes, so EPA staff can quickly respond to any reports of “potential discharge and/or releases of oil or hazardous materials.”

According to the EPA, there are 31 Superfund sites in South Carolina, including several in the storm’s projected path as the storm moves inland toward Florence and Columbia. There are also 35 Superfund sites in North Carolina, including several in the Cape Fear River region threatened by potential flooding.

When President Trump came to office, he proposed cutting $330 million out of the $1.1 billion Superfund program as part of his initial 2018 budget proposal. Congress rejected that proposed cut and even added more to the program, according to Katherine Probst, a Virginia-based consultant and Superfund specialist.

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The current level of funding is adequate, she said, but not ideal “for getting potential human exposure under control.”

The 11 sites EPA is assessing for vulnerability in South and North Carolina are:

Macalloy Corporation, a 110-acre site at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers in Charleston, S.C., that was contaminated by a smelting operation, starting in the 1940s. The EPA added it to the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) in 2000.

Koppers Co., a 102-acre site contaminated by a wood treatment plant in Charleston that started operations in the 1940s. The EPA added it to the NPL list in 1994.

Geiger, a 1.5-acre site contaminated by an oil waste incineration plant in Hollywood, S.C. that operated from 1969 to 1974. The EPA added it to the NPL list in 1984.

Parris Island Marine Corps Recruit Depot, a set of several old military landfills and dump sites outside of Beaufort, S.C. contaminated by industrial solvents and other waste.

Wamchem, Inc., a 25-acre site in Beaufort contaminated by production of dye products starting in the 1950s. The EPA added it to the NPL list in 1984.

Triangle Pacific Corporation, a 108-acre site in Elizabeth City, N.C. contaminated by industrial solvents.

Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station, a 13,000-acre site at an active Marine Corps station in Havelock, N.C. with groundwater contaminated by fuels, solvents and other toxins.

Horton Iron and Metal, a 42-acre former fertilizer and ship-breaking plant on the Northeast Cape Fear River near Wilmington, N.C. It was added to the NPL list in 2011.

FCX, Inc., a 12-acre site in Washington, N.C. that handled pesticides and other agricultural products. It was added to the NPL list in 1989.

Holtra Chem/Honeywell Inc., a 24-acre former chlor-alkali manufacturing plant on the Cape Fear River in Riegelwood, northwest of Wilmington, N.C.

Weyerhaeuser Co. Plymouth Wood Treating Plant, a 2,400-acre site near Plymouth N.C. contaminated by dumped chlorine and other chemicals used in wood pulp processing.

This story has been updated with additional Superfund sites the EPA said it was assessing late Tuesday in Virginia and North Carolina.

Stuart Leavenworth: 202-383-6070, @sleavenworth

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