One of the many problems caused by Hurricane Harvey when it flooded much of Houston was the flooding of EPA-designated Superfund sites. Superfund sites are properties or areas contaminated with hazardous materials that require expensive cleanups to be safely used for other purposes. What Harvey brought to light is that a large number of Superfund sites are in high-risk flood areas. This is doubly dangerous, not only because floods here happen often, but they can spread the hazardous toxin beyond the site.
It occurred to us that we have all the data needed to see how big an issue this is in any community, with Superfund point data from the EPA, and flood risk data from FEMA. Here’s a map of the two in Houston, but you can search for your own area to see the risks there:
Worth noting is that in Houston, the storm was so unprecedented that it flooded far more than the high-risk flood areas. The flood zones are categorized as low, medium, and high risk areas, representing areas below a 500-year flood risk, below a 100-year flood risk, and above a 100-year flood risk. But 500-year year flood risk doesn’t mean the floods only happen every 500 years; it means there’s a 0.2 percent annual chance of it happening, and that percent chance is likely to rise with global climate change.
For what it’s worth, EPA Secretary Scott Pruitt has said he plans to speed up the process of cleaning up Superfund sites, though the administration has proposed budget cuts that some say will slow down Superfund cleanups.
PolicyMap has been maintaining and updating FEMA flood zone files for our API clients for years. We’re currently working on making them available to users at our main site. Stay tuned.