Climate change threatens four polluted ‘Superfund’ sites in Baltimore region, GAO report says

10 acre Kane & Lombard Street Drums Superfund

Sea level rise, flash flooding and other climate change-related threats pose a risk of spreading contamination from four EPA-designated Superfund sites in the Baltimore region, according to a new federal report.

They include former dump sites and industrial operations that are being or were cleaned up under the Environmental Protection Agency program formally known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act. Created in 1980, the law allows EPA to clean up contaminated sites and, in some cases, force parties responsible for pollution to perform the cleanups or pay the government for its work.


The sites are outlined in a U.S. Government Accountability Office report that found that more than half of the nation’s Superfund sites face climate change-related threats, and that EPA is not consistently addressing those risks across the country.

The Baltimore-area sites said to be at risk of flooding and sea-level rise include:

  • Mid-Atlantic Wood Preservers Inc. on Shipley Avenue in Hanover, where from 1974 until 1993 wood was pressure-treated wood with chromated copper arsenate, leading to contamination of soil and groundwater. Cleanup work was completed in 1993 and EPA removed the site from a Superfund priority list in 2000.
  • Sauer Dump, which fronts the Back River in Dundalk, was declared a Superfund site in 2012. EPA still is preparing a cleanup plan for the site. Samples taken after an initial cleanup revealed elevated levels of lead and hazardous chemicals known as PCBs.
  • Kane & Lombard Street Drums, where household, construction and industrial wastes were disposed of from 1962 to 1984, in Baltimore. A cap was installed to seal over the contamination, but since 2011 EPA has studied groundwater treatment and the potential impacts of contaminants leaching into the air in buildings there.
  • Bush Valley Landfill, which borders a tidal marsh in Abingdon, ceased operation in 1983. A landfill cover and fencing are in place to limit exposure of the waste, and what EPA called “institutional controls” are being used to prevent groundwater contamination.

Other sites deemed at risk in Maryland include the Dwyer Property Ground Water Plume and Spectron Inc. in Elkton and Ordnance Products Inc. in North East.

The GAO authored the report at the request of Democrats in Congress who sit on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, including both of Maryland’s senators. In response to the report this week, Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen and five colleagues suggested it shows not enough is being done to prepare contaminated sites for climate change.

“The risks that these potential impacts pose to human health and the environment are sobering, and GAO has found that EPA leadership has not provided needed direction, dedicated sufficient resources, or fostered the necessary technical expertise with the EPA regions to address the significant challenges it faces in managing these risks,” they wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler on Monday.

The EPA said in a statement to the Associated Press that it recognizes the importance of making the toxic waste sites “resilient” against weather extremes.

“The Agency has taken measures to include vulnerability analyses and adaption planning into Superfund activities,” the EPA said.

Jay Apperson, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said the report “underscores the need to take action on climate change.”

While EPA is the lead agency responsible for Superfund oversight, Apperson said state regulators are aware of actions needed at certain sites, such as reinforcing shorelines or ensuring a cap on contaminated soil can withstand risks of increasingly severe floodwaters.

“We are reviewing that report to see what specific issues it identifies for the Maryland sites, but the potential effects of climate change on Superfund sites has been a concern for us for some time,” he said.