Extreme Tornadoes Digging Up Ground Where Superfund Sites Are

Washington (GGM) Analysis | December 17, 2021, by Noreen Wise, Founder & CEO of Gallant Gold Media, and author 

The severe chain of tornadoes that ravaged eight states on December 10, 2021, touching down in 30 separate locations, opened our eyes to the new normal that we’ve thrust ourselves into after breaking through the boundaries that human civilization has existed in for more than 10,000 years. 

We’ve left the Holocene Epoch, the era of stable climate and predictable seasons with a global temperature of +/- 1ºC, and entered the unstable Anthropocene Epoch, the age of humans. Nothing is predictable anymore. We’re currently at a global temperature of 1.2ºC above the pre-industrial age baseline. Climate scientists have warned that we’ll experience many more extreme weather events and thus have to find more ways to adapt as quickly as possible, while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions, just as urgently, in the hopes that we can make our way back to the safe Holocene conditions.  

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However hopeful we may be about the future and our ability to turn this around, the current conditions are baked in for the next 20 years. Understanding the new extremes and creating strategies for adapting, (ie deep underground tornado shelter bunkers), will keep people much more safe, although our personal property will still be at great risk from here on out, as we saw with the total destruction of Mayfield, Kentucky

The heart of the matter.

According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL),  under Severe Storms 101, powerful tornadoes have the ability to shred the ground itself, spew dirt, and in some cases dig trenches as deep as 3 feet. There have even been reports of tornadoes pulling up asphalt.

A powerful tornado’s ability to dig into the ground, should set off alarm bells. Graveyards are a concern of course, although right now, most caskets are 6 feet deep so they’re still relatively secure. But for how long? How deep will a tornado be able to dig if we reach 1.5ºC, or worse 2ºC?

And how about Superfund sites? The remedial procedure for decontaminating soil tainted by toxic waste is to cap it off, usually with clean soil, the depth of which is determined by the EPA and varies. 

For example, General Tire & Rubber Co (Mayfield Landfill ) is located two miles north of Mayfield, Kentucky and was deemed a superfund site in 1990 at which time it was placed on the National Priorities List (NPL). The EPA removed General Tire & Rubber Co (Mayfield Landfill ) from the NPL when it determined that no cleaned would be necessary after all following the PRP (potentially responsible party) covering the trenches (that contained 152 tons of hazardous waste) with two feet of clean soil, and seeding the top.

Not cleaning up the contaminated area and instead just covering it up, may have benefitted the PRP and the EPA in the short term, but it has become a significant threat in the long term. The hazardous waste at General Tire & Rubber Co (Mayfield Landfill ) is still there, two feet below the surface based on EPA records. The tornadoes will become more powerful due to climate change, more stronger than the 163-190 mph winds that tore up Mayfield on December 10, 2021. Stronger tornadoes have the potential to dig into the trenches where the hazardous waste still remains and propel it into the air where it can swirl around and potentially spread hundreds of miles. 

In 2021, there were 1,317 Superfund sites in the US. Kentucky has its fair share, a dynamic list that the EPA is trying to whittle down to zero. It appears that at one point there were 21 Superfund sites in Kentucky. Eight are still showing as active on the current list, although at least one of these was removed from the NPL in September 2021.

The tornado that raged through Kentucky on December 10, 2021, passed over 3 Superfund sites in two counties. 

  • Logan County (EF2, 111-135 mph winds)
  • Marshall County (EF4, 166-200 mph winds)

According to WLKY “assessments show the tornado was on the ground over the entirety of Marshall county.” Marshall County is home to two Kentucky Superfund sites.

The Airco Superfund site had been an industrial landfill and is located in close proximity to the BF Goodrich Superfund site. The EPA determined that Airco toxic waste would not harm local residents because it is fenced, secured and capped. Based on this low safety standard, the public needs to demand that the EPA investigate how well the Airco Superfund site withstood the force of an E4 tornado raging across every inch of ground in Marshall County on December 10, 2021.

The EPA asserted that the BF Goodrich Superfund site posed a significant public health risk to before the tornado. In light of the fact that the December 10 tornado was “on the ground over the entirety of Marshall County,” an investigation should be conducted as quickly as possible to determine how the public is affected:

Contaminated soil and groundwater underlying the Site pose a potential for the occurrence of contaminated vapors in the vadose zone and intrusion of vapors to indoor air spaces. An investigation of indoor air in buildings occupied by administrative workers not regulated under Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) indicated elevated levels of VOCs. The maximum indoor air risk estimated was 5 × 10-4 for cancer risks and a hazard index (HI) of 20 for non-cancer risk. However, a comparison of the outdoor air and sub-slab data indicates an outdoor air source for the VOCs. The elevated levels of VOCs encountered in the outdoor air may be attributable to point and non-point emissions from plant operations.” —DOJ (Remedial Action Work Plan for the B.F. Goodrich Superfund Site, Calvert City, Marshall County, Kentucky)

Again, it’s imperative that local officials who are working with FEMA connect with the EPA about investigating all the Superfund sites the tornadoes passed over in all eight states. There were three in Kentucky alone. Several more are relatively close to Edwardsville, IL where the Amazon warehouse caved in. With more than 1300 Superfund sites in the US, climate change extreme weather events striking the same location as a Superfund site and spreading the toxins far and wide, is highly likely and poses a significant danger to the public. Some of these are nuclear contaminants. Communities must be made aware of the best health protocols to implement and follow when extreme storms collide with highly toxic waste.

Gallant Gold Media will following this and will keep the public updated.


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