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Report: Climate Change Raises Flood Risks For Superfund Sites In N.H., Elsewhere

Annie Ropeik

A new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists says hundreds of coastal Superfund sites – including several in New Hampshire – face new risks of flooding due to climate change.

The analysis looked at federal toxic waste sites within 25 miles of the East and Gulf Coasts, and found that New Jersey, Florida and New York have the most sites at risk of extreme flooding. Many are concentrated along the I-95 corridor. 

In New Hampshire, the analysis covers not just the former Pease Air Base Superfund in Portsmouth and Coakley Landfill Superfund in Greenland and North Hampton, but also sites on the inner Seacoast. 

The report says even if greenhouse gas emissions drop sharply in the coming decades, at least 800 of these coastal Superfunds will soon be at risk for extreme flooding due to storms and tides.

This kind of flooding has spread toxic waste around Superfunds and active industrial sites, in places like Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

The Concerned Scientists report also says people of color and those earning lower incomes are more likely to live near these sites. This follows another recent study from the Chicago-based Shriver Center on Poverty Law that said about 70% of all Superfund sites are within one mile of a public housing complex.  

Sites further inland are not exempt from the risk, according the Concerned Scientists report and other flood data.

The recently released FloodFactor mapping tool from the nonprofit First Street Foundation shows risks from potential creek and river flooding near or on some non-coastal Superfund sites in New Hampshire.

These include the Beede Waste Oil site in Plaistow, the Collins and Aikman Plant site in Farmington, the Keefe Environmental Services site in Exeter and the Fletcher’s Paint Works and Savage Municipal Water sites on either side of downtown Milford, near the floodplain of the Souhegan River.

The FloodFactor tool also shows that the Chlor-Alkali Site, on the Androscoggin River near downtown Berlin, has about a 20% chance of flooding in the next 30 years. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently taking public comment on a new cleanup plan for that site.

New Hampshire has nearly two dozen listed or proposed Superfund sites total.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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