Then came the catastrophic floods in mid-Michigan in May 2020 and the dam burst, causing water to gush downstream, flooding the Dow’s containment ponds.
Ridik was relieved to learn that the flooded Dow pond did not emit hazardous chemicals, and the contaminated river sediments remained largely intact. But Dow, which has invested heavily in flood control to protect its facilities, is not the only industrial site in the floodplain. And the flight on the plane over the landscape showed ubiquitous flood at industrial complexes and landfills throughout the region.
“There are landfills and abandoned industrial sites along the Sagina River and its tributaries,” Rydzik said. “Look at General Motors – they have large facilities that are closed along the river. You have a foundry on the river. So you know, everything in this floodplain.
A federal report appears when auditors urge the EPA to order better protection against climate risks at hazardous sites.
The EPA advises the industry to consider natural disasters in its plans to prevent chemical emissions. But this is not a requirement, and management says nothing about how facilities should prepare for the dangers posed by climate change.
A spokesman for BASF, a chemical company whose Wyandotte polyurethane and plastics plant is on a list of sites at risk for climate change, said in a statement that the company is already monitoring the weather and is working to protect its facilities and surrounding settlements.
“Each BASF facility is implementing a weather response plan for potentially severe weather conditions, including those that could cause flooding at Wyandotte,” said company spokeswoman Marika Diamond. “Plans include detailed processes and procedures to mitigate potential damage to facilities and ensure product safety and security.”
Spokesmen for several other facilities listed in the federal report declined to comment or did not respond to calls and emails from Bridge.
As with many climate risks, the danger in these places is uneven on the poor and minorities. The 2018 EPA analysis found that in communities within a mile of facilities that use extremely hazardous substances, there were 10 percent more low-income people and 11 percent more minorities than the national average.
Paul Mohai, a professor at the University of Michigan School of Environmental and Sustainable Development who carefully studied the unevenness of environmental hazards in Michigan, said the report is further evidence that environmental laws and policies do not protect those living near industry.
Three of the sites that federal auditors noted over flood risk are in the Rose River, an industrial community south of Detroit that is already hampered air and water pollution.
Industrial areas such as the Rose River, with a lack of porous soil and shady trees and plenty of asphalt, are also vulnerable to climatic hazards such as heat and floods.
The report highlights how the two dangers can exacerbate each other, creating a “triple blow” to health risks, said Mohai, who is a member of the state’s environmental justice advisory board.
He said state and federation policies need to change to better take into account these growing effects.
“We have a lot of environmental justice politicians,” Mohai said, “but if you can’t show change on the ground, improvement on the ground, I don’t see them more than declarations of good intentions. ”
Emissions of chemicals as a result of natural hazards are rare. The auditors found that only 2 percent of the 1,500 declared emissions over the past five years were caused by natural hazards.
“But we know from experts and research that these natural hazards will become more frequent and more intense with climate change,” said Alfredo Gomez, the government’s director of accountability, who oversees environmental inspections.
“So the question is, how well prepared are these facilities and the EPA?”
Government auditors have called for the changes, and the EPA seems ready to implement them.