Cleaning Up Our Toxic Coasts: A Precautionary and Human Health-Based Approach to Coastal Adaptation

45 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2018 Last revised: 14 Aug 2018

Date Written: August 1, 2018


Hurricanes in the United States in 2005, 2012, and 2017 have all revealed an insidious problem for coastal climate change adaptation: toxic contamination in the coastal zone. As sea levels rise and violent coastal storms become increasingly frequent, this legacy of toxic pollution threatens immediate emergency response, longer term human health, and coastal ecosystems’ capacity to adapt to changing coastal conditions. Focusing on Hurricane Harvey’s 2017 devastation of Houston, Texas, as its primary example, this Article first discusses the toxic legacy still present in many coastal environments. It then examines the existing laws available to clean up the coastal zone—CERCLA, RCRA, and the Coastal Zone Management Act at the federal level, land use planning, and state tort law—both to identify ways in which states and the federal government could more effectively implement existing law and to suggest improvements to these existing laws to more emphatically prioritize the elimination of toxic coastal legacies. It concludes with three specific recommendations that precautionarily prioritize human health considerations in coastal management as a means of reducing coastal toxicity in the Anthropocene.

Keywords: climate change, adaptation, coasts, toxic, hazardous, Hurricane Harvey, CERCLA, RCRA

Suggested Citation

Craig, Robin Kundis, Cleaning Up Our Toxic Coasts: A Precautionary and Human Health-Based Approach to Coastal Adaptation (August 1, 2018). Pace Environmental Law (PELR) Review, 2019, University of Utah College of Law Research Paper No. 275, Available at SSRN:

Robin Kundis Craig (Contact Author)

USC Gould School of Law ( email )

699 Exposition Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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