Dec 10, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Rising sea levels threaten hazardous waste facilities along U.S. coast

Data: Mapbox, NOAA, EPA; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: Mapbox, NOAA, EPA; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

Sea level rise due to climate change is threatening hazardous waste management infrastructure along U.S. coastlines, according to an EPA report released earlier this year.

Why it matters: 1.6 million tons of hazardous waste are stored at facilities that would be put at risk if sea levels rose by five or more feet compared to 2000 levels.

  • If emissions aren't significantly reduced in the next few decades, U.S. coastlines could see sea levels increase another 3.5 to 7 feet by the end of this century, according to a comprehensive NOAA analysis.

Zoom in: Hazardous waste is temporarily stored and then treated or disposed of in plants known as Treatment, Storage, and Disposal Facilities (TSDFs).

  • The waste comes from hundreds of industrial sites and includes liquid, solids and gaseous materials.

Threat level: Rising sea levels can result in more frequent flooding and these toxic pollutants entering groundwater supplies and waterways.

  • Higher sea levels mean more instances of so-called "sunny day flooding," flooding that happens during high astronomical tides without the need for rainfall or storms. This also increases the damage potential from coastal storms, such as hurricanes and nor'easters.
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