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Are Most Toxic Chemical Sites Safe from Flooding?

Updated May 17, 2024
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Global warming carries many concerns, and flooding is one that is overlooked all too often. But it is a very real consequence of climate change, with water levels rising as ocean ice melts.

Flooding threatens cities, of course, but because of decades-old planning decisions, it also carries the added threat of a major chemical disaster -- or more than one. According to an investigation by The New York Times, there are 2,500 sites in the United States where toxic chemicals are handled in flood-prone areas. Even more alarming is the fact that 1,400 of those chemical sites are located in places deemed most at risk of flooding.

The threat is manifold, as the frequency of heavy rainfall has increased, sea levels are rising, and there are more threats from coastal storms, including hurricanes. It's not just bad luck, of course. Before global warming made headlines, it made sense to place toxic chemical sites near water for transportation reasons, as well as for the ready availability of a cooling source.

Nevertheless, in many cases, companies still see the same sites as best-suited for their needs, despite the risk. Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that kind of thinking must change before disaster strikes. "Companies need to think carefully about the risks of flood, and the increased risks from climate change," he said, "Saying 'We’ve always done it this way' doesn’t work anymore."

A flood of trouble:

  • Widespread flooding in central China in the summer of 1931 led to the deaths of approximately 3.7 million people.

  • In 1900, a hurricane and subsequent flooding in Galveston, Texas, killed at least 8,000 people, making it America's most deadly natural disaster.

  • Flooding and wildfires are the most common natural disasters in the United States.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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