climate change

Climate Change Concerns at Polluted Sites

NBC Connecticut Investigates looked into what more extreme weather could mean for ‘Superfund’ sites

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Connecticut’s most polluted former industrial sites could still pose a risk if remaining chemicals get unleashed in an extreme weather event due to climate change.

The U.S. classifies the most toxic places as “Superfund” sites.

The feds recently took a hard look at which of those sites could pose a threat. There are more than a dozen in Connecticut, most still in some stage of their cleanup.

While state leaders have been aware of the risks climate change pose to Superfund sites, some who live near these sites are still uneasy.

Gary Huckins has worried an extreme weather event brought on by climate change could flood the former Scovill Landfill site and send dangerous compounds like PCBs his way, via the swamp that separates his Waterbury home from the site. 

“I know they have capped it a number of years ago and we’re just hoping that it stays that way,” he said.

Another Connecticut Superfund site that has received a lot of local state and federal attention is the former Raymark Industries property on the shoreline in Stratford.

Neighbors have expressed concerns about what climate change-induced sea-level rise, and heavy rains could have on the PCBs, lead, and asbestos there, yet remain hopeful about its continued cleanup.

“There’s concerns but I think they’re definitely taking the right measures of digging it out and capping it off,” said Robert Right of Stratford.

Data courtesy of: EPA

Information compiled by: Olivia Schueller

Both the Raymark Industries and Scovill Landfill Superfund sites are among hundreds listed in a recent report by the U.S. General Accounting Office.

It outlined sites across the country it believes could be at risk due to climate change, and the steps the Environmental Protection Agency has taken to address them.

GAO report author Alfredo Gomez told NBC Connecticut Investigates, “There are 16 Superfund sites in Connecticut, of those 16 there are seven sites that according to the data that we looked at, are at risk for inland flooding.”

Those include Raymark, Scovill, the Solvents Recovery site in Southington, the Cheshire Groundwater Contamination Site, the Kellogg-Deering Well Field in Norwalk, the Nutmeg Valley Road site in Wolcott, and the Beacon Heights Landfill in Beacon Falls.

Betsey Wingfield with the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection said DEEP staffers inspect these Superfund sites every five years. Plus, she explained many of the Superfund sites are capped with asphalt, concrete, or a plastic membrane. 

“It really is both EPA and DEEP and their technical staffs working to find a good solution for these really challenging sites,” she said.

Wingfield added if designed correctly, rainwater should run off them properly, however, ”I can imagine that a really intense rain event might put what we might call a rill, or, erosion into a cap, we’d need to fix that and go back and repair it,” she said.

Something else to factor in, according to NBC Connecticut Chief Meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan, is because of climate change, our weather may get even more extreme. 

“Climate change is really a risk multiplier. A warmer atmosphere can hold much more water and much more moisture, so you’re seeing an increase in these extreme rainfall events, which down the line can increase the amount of flooding we see.”

That’s why people who have lived next to Superfund sites like Raymark for decades, including Charles Perez, showed only guarded optimism about the cleanup. 

“When you have groundwater problems and rising seas and more rain and what have you, you’ve got additional problems”, he said.

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