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.
Climate Adaptation at Superfund Sites
EPA is developing a series of site profiles that illustrate how climate adaptation is integrated into the Superfund program. Each profile describes assorted processes and tools that were used to conduct vulnerability assessment and take adaptation measures resulting in remedy resilience.
- Climate Adaptation Profile: American Cyanamid Co.
- Climate Adaptation Profile: Continental Steel Corp.
- Climate Adaptation Profile: Iron Mountain Mine
- Climate Adaptation Profile: Port Hadlock - Site 10 North End Landfill
- Climate Adaptation Profile: Solvents Recovery Service of New England, Inc.
Executive Order 14008 requires federal agencies to develop climate action plans that describe their agency’s climate vulnerabilities and steps to be taken to bolster adaptation and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. In October 2021, EPA released its new Climate Adaptation Action Plan. The plan accelerates and focuses attention on five priority actions the Agency will take to increase human and ecosystem resilience as climate changes and the disruptive impacts increase.
EPA’s Climate Adaptation Action Plan will be followed by updates to 17 implementation plans produced by EPA offices in 2014, when the Agency released its first Climate Adaptation Plan. Each office will report on its progress since 2014 and identify future actions to address the Agency-wide priorities identified in EPA’s 2021 Climate Adaption Action Plan.
EPA's Office of Superfund Remediation and Technology Innovation, which manages the Superfund program, is collaborating with other national program offices to update the Climate Change Adaptation Implementation Plan released by the Agency's Office of Land and Emergency Management in June 2014. The implementation plan for the Superfund program has involved the following key actions:
- 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 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.
- 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.
- Develop site-specific vulnerability assessment technical support that provides forward-looking understanding of climate impacts, documents existing resilience measures, and recommends adaptation measures.
The Superfund program will update its current priority actions to meet relevant goals of EPA’s 2021 Climate Adaptation Action Plan. In 2021, the U.S. EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management (OLEM) issued a directive recommending approaches to consider when evaluating climate resilience throughout the Superfund cleanup process for non-federal National Priorities List (NPL) sites.
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.
Strengthen the Nation's Forests and Economies
April 27, 2022, Executive Order 14072 sets policy on deploying nature-based solutions to protect coasts and critical marine ecosystems, reduce flooding, moderate extreme heat, replenish groundwater sources, capture and store carbon dioxide, and conserve biodiversity.
Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad
January 27, 2021, Executive Order 14008 sets policy for taking a government-wide approach to the climate crisis.
Catalyzing Clean Energy Industries and Jobs
December 8, 2021, Executive Order 14057 sets policy to build a sustainable infrastructure and achieve a carbon pollution-free electricity sector by 2035 and net-zero emissions economy-wide by 2050.