Superfund Climate Resilience
Remedies at contaminated sites may be vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events. EPA's Superfund program developed an approach that raises awareness of these vulnerabilities and applies climate change and weather science as a standard operating practice in cleanup projects. The approach involves periodic screening of Superfund remedy vulnerabilities, prioritizing the Superfund program's steps to adapt to a changing climate and identifying measures to assure climate resilience of Superfund sites.
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.
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 it will carry out the work outlined in an Agency-wide plan.
In June 2014, EPA released its Agency-wide Climate Change Adaptation Plan, which includes actions to be taken through the Superfund program. EPA's national program and regional offices also completed the associated implementation plans in 2014.
- EPA’s Climate Change Adaptation Plan (PDF) (41 pp, 452 K)
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) in June 2014.
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 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 resilience 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-related 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.
A screening analysis by EPA evaluated how climate-related 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. It also evaluated how the vulnerabilities may affect 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 onsite 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. As part of ongoing evaluations, EPA examined Superfund remedy resilience to the major hurricanes occurring in 2017.
Strategies for building climate resilience 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 effects 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 Vocabulary Catalog on the topic of climate change 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 natural or human systems to a new or changing environment which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities.
- Adaptive Capacity: The ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes), to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities or to copy with the consequences.
The Superfund program has compiled descriptions and Web links for online information resources that can help inform and guide climate change adaptation strategies and implement resilience measures.
January 27, 2021, Executive Order 14008 sets policy for taking a government-wide approach to the climate crisis.
Learn about resilience steps taken at three NPL sites in Technology News and Trends Newsletter: Issue No. 65.