We’re already aware of threats to public health and the environment caused by burying coal ash and other toxic waste — including garbage transported from distant cities. Cancer-causing heavy metals and arsenic contained in these waste-streams can get into groundwater, wetlands, creeks and rivers, polluting drinking water, wildlife habitat and fish consumed by local residents.

Such harmful pollutants are especially troublesome in low-lying areas like South Georgia, where groundwater is near the surface, wetlands interlace many properties, and waterways abound.

Now we are faced with added risks imposed, by unsafe disposal of these waste-materials due to rising sea level, more frequent flooding and intensified storms with winds that push floodwaters across vast areas. The recently released National Climate Assessment, carefully prepared and verified by a team of well-qualified scientists, is explicitly conclusive about the adversities of these trends.

The report warns oceans could rise as much as 8 feet in the next 80 years, noting hundreds of billions of dollars in climate-related damage that’s already occurring due to climbing global temperatures.

As stunningly demonstrated by this year’s hurricanes, more intense storms cause perilous flooding, inundating not only landfills, but also sewers and septic systems, allowing contaminants to be released into water supplies, fish habitat and developed areas. As floodwaters recede, residual toxins jeopardize the health of communities lying in harm’s way, degrading quality of life for decades.

These growing hazards must be accounted for in state and federal regulatory reforms. We must not allow South Georgia to become a “sacrifice zone” for the negligent dumping of toxic waste.

David Kyler

Center for a Sustainable Coast