The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say they “can’t guarantee 100 percent” that there will be no contamination from heavily contaminated toxic waste sites following Hurricane Irma
Staff were working to secure equipment and attempted to isolate hazardous materials at Florida’s 54 Superfund sites in the hours before Hurricane Irma made landfall, just two weeks after similar sites were damaged by Hurricane Harvey.
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Superfund sites are defined by the EPA as highly polluted areas requiring a long-term response to clean up hazardous materials and contamination.
During Harvey, no attempt was made to secure those sites from flooding and, as water receded, the EPA was very slow to respond.
Potential leaks could poison water and soil and cause damage to humans or wildlife, or, at the very least, require expensive clean-up operations.
This week, the EPA said it had sent more than 80 staff to Florida, compared to over 200 for Texas, but nonetheless hoped to be more proactive.
“Operationally, we’ve tried to make sure we apply the same type of approach we used in Texas. Because of the area and the amount of population that’s affected in Florida, we’re trying to be even more aggressive,” US environmental chief Scott Pruitt said Thursday.
AP said its reporters personally inspected six Superfund sites nearest to Irma’s point of impact and found no work going on at any of them. Barrels containing what appeared to be contaminants were left out in plain sight. When questioned about this, the EPA responded that if “there is no activity, a site should be considered secured but would be closely monitored.”
“If any site in the path of the storm is found to pose an immediate threat to nearby populations, EPA will immediately alert and work with state and local officials and inform the public – and then take any appropriate steps to address the threat,” EPA spokesperson Liz Bowman said Friday. “So far no sites have risen to this level that we are aware of.”
A recent study published by the Government Accountability Office said water levels of 1 to 4 feet above the ground could be sufficient to flood Florida’s most vulnerable sites. The National Hurricane Center has predicted that storm surges may reach 15 feet.