Superfund Climate Change Adaptation
Remedies at contaminated sites may be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. EPA's Superfund program has developed an approach that raises awareness of these vulnerabilities and applies climate change and weather science as a standard operating practice in cleanup projects. To date, the approach has involved screening of Superfund remedy vulnerabilities, prioritizing the Agency's adaptation efforts at Superfund sites and identifying adaptation measures to increase remedies’ resilience to climate change and weather extremes.
This Web page shares information about approaches for adapting to climate change and building resilience to extreme weather at contaminated sites undergoing cleanup. This information does not impose legally binding requirements on EPA, states, tribes or the regulated community, and does not alter or supersede existing policy or guidance for the cleanup of contaminated sites. EPA, federal, state, tribal and local decision-makers retain discretion to implement approaches on a case-by-case basis.
- Background Information
EPA issued its first policy statement on climate change adaptation in June 2011. It recognized that climate change can pose significant challenges to the Agency’s ability to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment. It also called for the Agency to develop a plan for addressing future climate changes and to incorporate climate change considerations into EPA's activities. In addition, the policy required that every national program and regional office develop an implementation plan describing how they will carry out the work outlined in an Agency-wide plan.
- Policy Statement on Climate-Change Adaptation (PDF)(3 pp, 594 K)
In June 2014, EPA released its Agency-wide Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan, which includes the Superfund program’s Climate Change Adaptation Action Plan. EPA regional offices’ implementation plans also address adaptation and contaminated site cleanup.
- EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan (PDF)(41 pp, 452 K)
On this page:
- Climate change impacts on the Superfund program
- Climate change adaptation within the Superfund program
- Climate change impacts potentially affecting remediation vulnerability
Climate Change Impacts on the Superfund Program
A screening analysis by EPA evaluated how the vulnerabilities may affect soil, sediment and groundwater remedies involving technologies such as soil vapor extraction, bioremediation, permeable reactive barriers and pump-and-treat (P&T) systems, or involving strategies such as monitored natural attenuation or ex-situ containment. The analysis identified Superfund sites near or within 100-year and 500-year floodplains and Superfund sites within a 1-meter sea level rise zone. Results showed that cleanup projects involving P&T technology for groundwater remediation and on-site systems for contaminant source containment may be particularly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather events. This is because of their frequent use, general design and often lengthy duration.
Climate Change Adaptation within the Superfund Program
EPA's Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, which manages the Superfund program, is collaborating with other national program offices to implement the Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan released by the Agency's Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM, formerly OSWER) in June 2014.
Adaptation plans for the Superfund program involve the following key actions:
- Develop criteria to identify the types of remedies for which performance may be affected by climate change.
- Develop a protocol for evaluating and ensuring remedy protectiveness on a site-specific basis.
- Produce adaptation fact sheets specific to the types of remediation systems most likely to be affected by climate change, to help project decision-makers identify potential system vulnerabilities and adaptation measures.
- Identify existing Superfund program processes (such as remedial investigations/feasibility studies, records of decision, remedial designs/remedial actions and five-year reviews) in which climate change adaptation measures may be integrated to ensure continuing protectiveness of current and future remedies.
- Develop and implement in-person and Web-based training to help EPA regional staff, cleanup contractors and other stakeholders plan and implement remedies that are resilient to weather and climate changes.
- Exchange updated information and learned lessons with EPA's regional offices to foster application of climate change science as a standard EPA business practice.
Strategies for climate change adaptation management within the Superfund program may apply to existing or planned remediation systems. The strategies also may be applied to cleanups conducted under other regulatory programs or through voluntary efforts to increase remedy resilience to the potential impacts of climate change. Implementing the strategies must remain consistent with existing regulatory requirements for site cleanup, including those requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act.
EPA's Glossary of Climate Change Terms defines several key terms:
- Vulnerability: The degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude and rate of climate variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and its adaptive capacity.
- Resilience: A capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to and recover from significant multi-hazard threats with minimum damage to social well-being, the economy and the environment.
- Adaptation: Adjustment or preparation of human systems to a new or changing environment that moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.
The Superfund program has compiled descriptions and Web links for online information resources that can help inform and guide climate change adaptation strategies. The resources include brief descriptions of engineered structures commonly used in adaptation measures.
Climate Change Impacts Potentially Affecting Remediation Vulnerability
- Increased occurrence of extreme temperatures
- Sustained changes in average temperatures
- Decreased permafrost
- Increased heavy precipitation events
- Increased flood risk
- Decreased precipitation and increasing drought
- Increased landslides
- Sea level rise
- Increased intensity of hurricanes
- Increased intensity of tornados
- Increased storm surge intensity
- Increased frequency and intensity
EPA’s focus on climate adaptation and weather resilience is part of the larger federal effort to increase the nation’s adaptive capacity and to promote a healthy and prosperous nation that is resilient to a changing climate and extreme weather events. The U.S. Government Accountability Office "2017 High Risk Report" recognizes that federal agency actions are necessary to address climate change, including incorporating climate-related information into agency planning, operations, policies and programs.