Hurricane Dorian May Brush Virginia, Bringing Danger of Toxic Floodwaters

by David Flores | September 05, 2019

In August, Virginians remembered the devastation wrought by Hurricane Camille 50 years earlier. After making landfall on the Gulf Coast, that storm dumped dozens of inches of rain in western portions of the Commonwealth and killed more than 150 people in flash floods and landslides. Today, Virginians along the Atlantic coast and in the Hampton Roads region have Hurricane Dorian on their minds, with potentially life-threatening flooding, property destruction, and toxic floodwaters being serious hazards.

The National Weather Service is now predicting that Dorian could bring storm surge flooding of two to four feet to Hampton Roads by Friday afternoon. Heavy precipitation could also exacerbate storm surge with urban and river flooding.

Over the next several days, residents of Hampton Roads and government officials should also be cautious about the risk of floodwaters contaminated by wastewater and debris and, especially, the threat of flood-induced chemical disaster. Based on our recent analysis, the communities most socially vulnerable to disaster in the Hampton Roads contain at least 150 – but possibly more than 400 – hazardous chemical facilities that could be exposed to storm surge flooding from Category 1 and Category 2 hurricanes. If and when these facilities are flooded, their operators and regulators may be unprepared to avert chemical spills into floodwaters and surrounding communities.

The communities where these flood-exposed facilities are located are among the most socially vulnerable to disaster nationwide, ...

New Report: Socially Vulnerable Communities Face Increasing Risks from Toxic Floodwaters in Virginia

by David Flores | March 06, 2019
2018 was one of the wettest years on record in Virginia, causing catastrophic floods and landslides, as well as unexpectedly high levels of pollution in the Commonwealth’s waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. While the last waterlogged year is only a recent memory for Virginians, seemingly unremarkable snow and rainfall at the end of February caused the James River to crest last week at its highest level in Richmond in almost ten years. Climate change has clearly transformed our experience with ...

The National Environmental Policy Act Can Give Communities Impacted by Toxic Flooding a Voice

by Elena Franco | August 27, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. It is based on a forthcoming article that will be published in the Sustainable Development Law & Policy Brief. As climate change makes extreme weather events increasingly frequent, the risk of flooding on our rivers and shores increases. As I noted in a previous post in this series, this puts us at risk for toxic flooding – the combination of ...

The James River: Floods, Pollution, and the Potential for Toxic Soup in Virginia

by Elena Franco | May 31, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. As one of America’s first colonies, Virginia has a long history of industrialization and its consequent pollution along its waterways. It also has a long history of floods. This combination provides a potential for toxic flooding, putting Virginia's population and livelihoods at risk. The James River, named “America’s founding river” and spanning most of the state, is prone to floods, ...

Flood Safety, Infrastructure, and the Feds

by Daniel Farber | May 30, 2018
Cross-posted from LegalPlanet. The federal government is responsible for responding to major floods and runs the federal flood insurance program.  It also has millions of dollars of its own infrastructure at risk from floods. Yet the government is failing to deal effectively with flood risks before the fact. Let’s begin with the levees that are the main defense against flooding. There are over 100,000 miles of levees across the United States, including about a fifth of all U.S. counties, many of ...

Unlearned Lessons from the 'Toxic Soup': Floods, Industrialization, and Missed Opportunities

by Elena Franco | April 18, 2018
This post is part of a series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities. As Hurricane Harvey lingered over Texas in 2017, it created a wall of water that swallowed much of Houston. Catastrophic flooding over a wide swath of southern Texas left towns, cities, and the countryside under feet of water. The floodwaters sloshed toxic chemicals from the area's 10 oil and gas refineries, 500 chemical plants, and 12 Superfund sites ...

Threat from Climate-Induced Spills Goes Beyond Superfund and Toxic Release Inventory Sites

by David Flores | March 19, 2018
This post is the first in a forthcoming series about climate change and the increasing risk of floods releasing toxic chemicals from industrial facilities in Virginia. At the tail end of winter, a succession of "bomb cyclones" and nor'easters has brought fierce winds and surging coastal flooding to the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. These storms remind us of the deepening vulnerability of our coastal and riverfront communities and infrastructure to intensifying extreme weather and flooding. This "freakish" winter weather comes just ...

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