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Report: Climate change threatens 11 Alabama superfund sites

Eddie Burkhalter

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Sunset on the Tennessee River

Natural disasters made more severe and more frequent by climate change are endangering 11 superfund sites in Alabama, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. government. 

The report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office urges the Environmental Protection Agency to take action to protect more than 900 superfund sites across the country from the impacts of flooding, wildfires and sea level rise which are exacerbated by climate change. 

Of the 1,500 superfund sites across the country almost 60 percent, or more than 900, are under threat from the impacts of climate change, according to the report titled “EPA Should take Additional Actions to Manage Risks of Climate Change.” 

“Climate change may increase the frequency and intensity of certain natural disasters, which could damage Superfund sites—the nation’s most contaminated hazardous waste sites,” the report reads. “…We found that EPA has taken some actions to manage risks at these sites. However, we recommend it provide direction on integrating climate information into site-level decision making to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment.” 

The EPA has listed more than 500 contaminants at the National Priority List (NPL) sites, including arsenic and lead. The report notes that climate change may make some natural disasters more frequent or more intense “which may damage NPL sites and potentially release contaminants, according to the Fourth National Climate Assessment.” 

In 2017 Congress asked the U.S. GAO office to conduct a study to determine which of those sites were in danger of being impacted by climate change, which resulted in the report. The EPA has already pushed back on aspects of the report, however, a signal of the Trump administration’s continuing rejection of calls for action on climate change. 

“The EPA strongly believes the Superfund program’s existing processes and resources adequately ensure that risks and any effects of severe weather events, that may increase in intensity, duration, or frequency, are woven into risk response decisions at non-federal [National Priorities List] sites,” said EPA Assistant Administrator Peter Wright said in a statement Monday. 

The GAO report notes that while four of the 10 regions overseen by the EPA across the country do use climate change projections when assessing dangers for superfund sites, “EPA officials have not consistently incorporated climate change information into their assessment of site-level risks because they do not always have the climate data they need to do so, according to our review of EPA documents and interviews with EPA officials and stakeholders.” 

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Alabama resides in the EPA’s region 4, an area for which the EPA says it doesn’t have enough data to accurately predict how climate change might endanger those superfund sites, the report found, and an area that the EPA does not use future predictions in doing so. 

“The Region 4 climate change adaptation implementation plan, for instance, noted that preliminary assessments and site investigations are typically based on historic information, not future projections and therefore may not fully address risks,” the report reads.  “Region 4 study of the vulnerability of NPL sites stated that climate model projections of temperature and precipitation patterns are not available at a spatial resolution that is useful for assessing vulnerabilities at the site level.” 

APR’s message to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, which works with the EPA to safeguard those toxic sites, on Thursday for comment on the report went unanswered. 

Among the report’s recommendations to the EPA are: 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should establish a schedule for standardizing and improving information on the boundaries of nonfederal NPL sites. 

The Administrator of EPA should clarify how EPA’s actions to manage risks to human health and the environment from the potential impacts of climate change effects at nonfederal NPL sites align with the agency’s current goals and objectives. 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should provide direction on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk assessments at nonfederal NPL sites. 

The Director of the Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation should provide direction on how to integrate information on the potential impacts of climate change effects into risk response decisions at nonfederal NPL sites. 

Alabama’s superfund sites deemed in danger by natural disasters made more frequent and severe by climate change are: 

Site name: TRIANA/TENNESSEE RIVER

Location: LIMESTONE/MORGAN, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: INTERSTATE LEAD CO. (ILCO)

Location: LEEDS, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: ALABAMA PLATING COMPANY, INC.

Location: VINCENT, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: T.H. AGRICULTURE & NUTRITION CO. (MONTGOMERY PLANT)

Location: MONTGOMERY, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: moderate or other flood hazards

Site name: MOWBRAY ENGINEERING CO.

Location: GREENVILLE, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: highest flood hazard

Site name: OLIN CORP. (MCINTOSH PLANT)

Location: MCINTOSH, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: CIBA-GEIGY CORP. (MCINTOSH PLANT)

Location: MCINTOSH, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, highest flood hazard

Site name: STAUFFER CHEMICAL CO. (LEMOYNE PLANT)

Location: AXIS, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential

Site name: PERDIDO GROUND WATER CONTAMINATION

Location: PERDIDO, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential

Site name: REDWING CARRIERS, INC. (SARALAND)

Location: SARALAND, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: high wildfire hazard potential, a maximum intensity (Category 4 or 5) hurricane, moderate or other flood hazards

Site name: AMERICAN BRASS INC.

Location: HEADLAND, AL

In an area potentially impacted by: No hazard identified (includes unknown)

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High chemical levels in water near Decatur landfill concern environmental group, ADEM

Josh Moon

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Recent tests of water flowing under an abandoned landfill in Decatur found levels of the chemicals PFAS and PFOS at 51,000 parts per trillion — substantially higher than the 70 parts per trillion the EPA has determined is safe for drinking water — test results obtained by APR show. 

The tests, paid for by the Tennessee Riverkeepers group and conducted on two occasions in the past five months by ALS testing labs, measured chemical levels at the Old Moulton Road landfill site, where water flows directly into Mud Tavern Creek and Flint Creek.

On March 9, testing showed the combined levels of PFAS and PFOS chemicals to be at 49,000 parts per trillion. Two months later, on May 5, the results showed levels of 51,000. Those chemicals, used in manufacturing by 3M, which has a plant near Decatur, have been linked to cancer and various other health issues, particularly in pregnant women. 

These are alarming levels, and where they’re being discharged is also of concern to Riverkeeper because they are being discharged into a part of the county that we thought was not as contaminated,” Tennessee Riverkeeper founder David Whiteside said in an interview with WHNT-19 earlier this week. “They’re also flowing into the Point Mallard area, and possibly flowing into the drinking water intake because the creek that they’re flowing into empties upstream from our drinking water intake.”

In a response on Wednesday, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management acknowledged that it is also concerned with the testing results — although the agency also said it was unable to verify the Riverkeepers’ test results because it wasn’t sure of the protocols — and said it is working with the EPA and others to develop a plan for addressing the chemicals. 

However, ADEM also noted that it is somewhat limited in its possible responses, because the EPA has yet to set acceptable PFAS/PFOS limits for ground water or bodies of water, such as creeks and rivers. (The 70-parts-per-trillion limit is only for drinking water.) Without those limits, ADEM is unable to impose fines or force remediation efforts by 3M or other responsible parties or even issue warnings. 

ADEM spokesperson Lynn Battle said that while the agency hasn’t been able to alert nearby residents of increased PFAS/PFOS levels, in this particular case, the area is already under a do-not-eat advisory for fish due to high levels of mercury. 

She said the Department is now working on a much larger and more comprehensive plan for dealing with PFAS/PFOS chemicals. 

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ADEM wants to reassure the public, especially citizens who use our waterways, that we are working to put in place measures which provide the utmost protections for Alabamians and the state’s waters and lands in regard to PFAS,” Battle said. “Those measures will include remediation and will limit exposure to the compounds now and in the future.”

This is not the first incident of the Riverkeeper organization finding and testing old dumping sites in north Alabama, particularly around Decatur. 3M and other companies in the area have faced numerous lawsuits, and Tennessee Riverkeepers currently has a federal lawsuit pending. 

One of the largest concerns about the PFAS/PFOS contaminants is that they could seep into the drinking water, as they did in west Morgan and east Lawrence counties a few years ago. Those issues prompted the water authority in the area to tell people to stop drinking the water. 

Decatur Utilities, which supplies water in the Decatur area, said its testing continues to show only acceptable levels of PFAS/PFOS. In a statement issued to WHNT this week, DU said its levels “have consistently been less than 5 (parts per trillion).”

Battle said ADEM has reviewed DU’s submitted, regular testing results for drinking water and is comfortable that the water is safe to drink.

 

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Environment

Gov. Kay Ivey awards $3.2 for home weatherization program

Eddie Burkhalter

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Gov. Kay Ivey has awarded $3.2 million to 14 community action agencies that help low-income, elderly and disabled Alabamians with home weatherization. 

“Those Alabama residents who are living on limited incomes, especially the elderly and disabled, can struggle to pay higher utility bills in the summer months,” Ivey said in a statement Monday. “These grants will assist in lowering the energy bills for many of them by making upgrades to keep their houses cooler and more comfortable during the hot summer months.” 

The U.S. Department of Energy grants — administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs — are managed by those 14 local community agencies, which processes applications from residents and determines which qualify for aid through the Alabama Weatherization Assistance Program. 

If a person qualifies, the federal aid can be used to install insulation, seal around drafty windows and doors, replace inefficient lighting and repair air conditioning systems. 

For every dollar invested in the weatherization program, $1.80 is returned to the homeowner in utility savings and taxpayers at large get 71 cents through reduced uncollected utility bills, improved housing quality and health, and increased local employment, according to  ADECA. 

“ADECA continues to support Gov. Ivey in helping those who need it most through the Weatherization Assistance Program,” ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell said. “Our partnerships with local community agencies ensure that many underserved residents receive help in preparing their homes for the hottest part of the year now and for years in the future.”

Below is a list of each grant, the recipient agency, counties served and the agency telephone number:

  • $291,917 to Central Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission (Autauga, Chilton, Dallas, Elmore, Macon, Perry, Russell and Shelby) 334-262-4300
  • $78,418 to Community Action Committee Inc. of Chambers-Tallapoosa-Coosa (Chambers, Coosa and Tallapoosa) 256-825-4287
  • $124,675 to Alabama Council on Human Relations Inc. (Lee) 334-821-8336
  • $196,939 to Community Action Partnership of Huntsville-Madison and Limestone Counties Inc. (Madison and Limestone) 256-851-9800
  • $421,578 to Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity (Jefferson) 205-327-7500
  • $326,697 to Mobile Community Action Inc. (Choctaw, Mobile and Washington) 251-457-5700
  • $175,434 to Montgomery County Commission (Montgomery) 334-832-1210
  • $244,123 to Community Action Partnership of North Alabama Inc. (Cullman, Lawrence, Marion, Morgan, Walker and Winston) 256-355-7843
  • $325,655 to Community Action Agency of Northeast Alabama Inc. (Blount, Cherokee, DeKalb, Etowah, Jackson, Marshall and St. Clair) 256-638-4430
  • $128,255 to Community Action Agency of Northwest Alabama Inc. (Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale) 256-766-4330
  • $297,745 to Organized Community Action Program Inc. (Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Lowndes and Pike) 334-566-1712
  • $218,125 to Community Action Agency of South Alabama (Baldwin, Clarke, Conecuh, Escambia, Marengo, Monroe and Wilcox) 251-626-2646
  • $197,793 to Community Action Agency of Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun and Cleburne (Calhoun, Clay, Cleburne, Randolph and Talladega) 256-362-6611
  • $229,705 to Community Service Programs of West Alabama Inc. (Bibb, Fayette, Greene, Hale, Lamar, Pickens, Sumter and Tuscaloosa) 205-752-5429
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Above-normal hurricane season predicted

Eddie Burkhalter

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Monday marks the first day of hurricane season, and in a statement Monday, Gov. Kay Ivey warned of the potential of numerous hurricanes this season. 

“June 1 marks the first day of hurricane season, and as we know, Alabama is far too familiar with the uncertainty and damage that accompanies any severe weather. The National Weather Service is predicting an above-normal 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which runs now through November 30,” Ivey said in a statement. 

“As our country focuses on safely reopening our economy and combatting a health pandemic, it is also vitally important we remember to make preparations now for any severe weather, because hurricanes, tornadoes and severe weather will not wait for us to be ready. Hurricane preparedness must still be a focus for every Alabamian,” Ivey continued. 

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts a 60 percent chance of an above-normal season. 

“NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center is forecasting a likely range of 13 to 19 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 6 to 10 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 6 major hurricanes (category 3, 4 or 5; with winds of 111 mph or higher),” according to NOAA’s website.

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Alabama State Waters reopen for shrimping on June 1

Brandon Moseley

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Tuesday, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Marine Resources Division announced that pursuant to Section 9-12-46, Code of Alabama 1975, all inside waters not permanently closed by law or regulation will open for shrimp harvesting at 6 a.m., on Monday, June 1, 2020.

This opening includes Mobile Bay, Bon Secour Bay, the Mississippi Sound, Perdido Bay, Arnica Bay, Wolf Bay and Little Lagoon.

Licensed live bait dealers holding a permit for Special Live Bait Areas are reminded that an area beside the Battleship Alabama south of the Tensaw River Bridge, north of a line from the north point of Pinto Pass (N30 40.755, W88 01.124) to the northwest edge of Goat Island (N30 40.124, W88 00.784), and west of a line from the northwest edge of Goat Island to the eastern end of Tensaw River Bridge (N30 40.955, W88 00.444) will be open from one hour before sunrise until sunset from June 1 to December 31, 2020.

Shrimp are an important food species for a number of fish and wildlife species. Alabama waters contain 15 to 22 species of shrimp. Only three of these are normally eaten by humans. These are: the brown shrimp (Penaeus aztecus), the white shrimp (P. setiferus), and the pink shrimp (P. duorarum). Shrimp, along with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish, are a species of invertebrates known as decapods. There are about 2,000 species of shrimp in the world.

The brown shrimp is by far the most abundant The pink shrimp is the least abundant of the three. Alabamians harvest approximately 20.5 million pounds of shrimp with an estimated dockside value of $45 million.

The ADCNR closes Alabama’s waters around May 1 each year because May is when the juvenile brown shrimp begin to leave their nurseries in the wetlands and marshes to explore deeper water. The break in the shrimping action gives the commercially important shrimp time to age and grow without fishing pressure.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through four divisions: Marine Resources, State Lands, State Parks, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.

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To learn more about ADCNR, visit www.outdooralabama.com.

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