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EPA Should Take Additional Actions to Manage Risks from Climate Change Effects

Fast Facts

- 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.

- Federal data suggests about 60 percent of Superfund sites overseen by EPA are in areas that may be impacted by wildfires and different types of flooding—natural hazards that may be exacerbated by climate change.

- We testified that EPA has taken some actions to manage risks at these sites. Also, EPA should provide direction on integrating climate information into site-level decision making to ensure long-term protection of human health and the environment.

What GAO Found

In October 2019, GAO reported that available federal data on flooding, storm surge, wildfires, and sea level rise suggested that about 60 percent (945 of 1,571) of all nonfederal Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) sites—which have serious hazardous contamination--are located in areas that may be impacted by these potential climate change effects (see figure). In 2019, GAO released an interactive map and dataset, available with its report (GAO-20-73)

GAO also reported in 2019 that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) actions to manage risks from climate change effects at these sites aligned with three of GAO's six essential elements of enterprise risk management, partially aligned with two, and did not align with one. For example, EPA had not aligned its process for managing risks with agency-wide goals. Without clarifying this linkage, EPA could not ensure that senior officials would take an active role in strategic planning and accountability for managing these risks

In 2019, GAO found that EPA recognized institutional, resource, and technical challenges in managing risks from climate change effects. For example, some EPA officials told us they do not have the direction they need to manage these risks