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Aug. 11, 2020 by Samuel Boden, Kim Sudderth

Toxic Floodwaters and Pipelines in Hampton Roads

On October 20, 1994, rising floodwaters from the San Jacinto River in Houston, Texas, caused a pipeline to break open, allowing gasoline to gush out and the river to catch fire. Such flooding is increasingly likely as the effects of climate change take hold, and yet, in the quarter century since that disaster, the federal government has implemented no new regulations to ensure that oil and gas operators are adequately preparing for the risks from more frequent and intense floods caused by the climate crisis.

In April 2019, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued an unenforceable notice reminding pipeline operators that severe flooding still threatens the integrity of their infrastructure. Similarly, prompted by chemical disasters during recent hurricanes, the U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) alerted industrial facilities of the potential chemical disasters that could be caused by extreme weather this hurricane season. But again, nothing was required of such facilities since CSB has no regulatory authority, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration has been openly hostile to stronger regulations to prevent such disasters.

With the threat of worsening floods from climate change, such …

Aug. 3, 2020 by Matt Shudtz, Brian Gumm
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Based on its current projected path, Tropical Storm Isaias could bring heavy rains up and down the East Coast, from the Carolinas and Virginia to the Delmarva Peninsula, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Along the way, the storm could swamp industrial facilities, coal ash ponds, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and more.

From Hurricane Florence to Hurricane Harvey and beyond, in the past 15 years, we've seen numerous tropical storms flood unprepared facilities. This has caused significant infrastructure damage and unleashed toxic floodwaters into nearby communities and waterways, threatening public health and making residents sick.

While no one can predict the exact path of any given storm, we do know the importance of preparing for extreme weather and adapting to the climate crisis. For resources on this issue, you can review CPR's report on toxic floodwaters in Virginia, our paper on toxic floodwaters and public health, and our …

June 9, 2020 by Darya Minovi
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June 1 marked the start of hurricane season for the Atlantic Basin. While not welcome, tropical storms, strong winds, and storm surges are an inevitable fact of life for many residents of the Eastern Seaboard and the Gulf Coast. As a new paper from the Center for Progressive Reform explains, with those storms can come preventable toxic flooding with public health consequences that are difficult to predict or control.

In Ernest Hemingway’s 1970 novel, Islands in the Stream, he wrote of his protagonist, Thomas Hudson, “He knew how to plot storms and the precautions that should be taken against them. He knew too what it was to live through a hurricane with the other people of the island and the bond that the hurricane made between all people who had been through it.”

Only Hemingway could romanticize hurricanes. And things have only gotten worse. Last month …

May 27, 2020 by Samuel Boden
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On May 19, the National Weather Service advised people living near the Tittabawassee River in Michigan to seek higher ground immediately. The region was in the midst of what meteorologists were calling a “500-year-flood,” resulting in a catastrophic failure of the Edenville Dam. Despite years of warnings from regulators that the dam could rupture, its owners failed to make changes to reinforce the structure and increase spillway capacity. By the next day, the river had risen to a record-high 34.4 feet in the city of Midland.

Any flood of this magnitude is a tragedy, but the situation in Midland is worse: The city is home to the world headquarters of Dow Chemical Company, including a vast complex that has produced a range of toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange and mustard gas. Dow has a tarnished history in the area, responsible for contaminating the Tittabawassee River with …

Sept. 5, 2019 by David Flores
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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 …

March 6, 2019 by David Flores
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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 weather and our relationship with water. In a new report published today, the Center for Progressive Reform explores how this drives environmental injustice in Virginia through toxic flooding and the increasing risk of chemical exposures.

Over the last two years, plant explosions in Texas and flooded coal ash impoundments in North Carolina have reminded us about an unmet need to adapt our approach to chemical safety. And …

Aug. 27, 2018 by Elena Franco
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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 floodwaters and industrial toxic spills unleashed during flooding events. Although the storms themselves are not preventable, we can at least avoid placing toxic chemicals in the path of floodwaters. So what role can the American people play in developing stronger, more proactive policies designed to prevent, rather than merely respond to, toxic flooding? 

The good news is that existing federal and state environmental laws provide vehicles …

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CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Aug. 11, 2020

Toxic Floodwaters and Pipelines in Hampton Roads

Aug. 3, 2020

Will Isaias Unleash Toxic Floodwaters along the East Coast?

June 9, 2020

It's Hurricane Season. Will State and Federal Agencies Act to Reduce Public Health Hazards from Toxic Flooding?

May 27, 2020

Will Tittabawassee Floodwaters Go Toxic?

Sept. 5, 2019

Hurricane Dorian May Brush Virginia, Bringing Danger of Toxic Floodwaters

March 6, 2019

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

Aug. 27, 2018

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