Reason Takes a Holiday: Day 4: Daily Dings to our Health and Environment from the GOP's Government Shutdown

"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone . . ."

Joni Mitchell, "Big Yellow Taxi"

Joni was right - as we're seeing more vividly with each passing day.

With the federal government shut down, officials have stopped monitoring flu outbreaks that could signal an epidemic or the need for more effective vaccines. Clean-up work has halted at toxic industrial sites nationwide.  And thousands of runners have been sidelined by race cancellations.

Those are just a few of the ways the government shutdown is putting our environment and health at risk, as I detail here below in Day Four of the shutdown debacle.

Turns out, we need professionals on the job protecting the quality of our water, air, wildlife and lands.

It's time for House Republicans to give up the political gamesmanship - so our government can get back to work.

Day 4 shutdown impacts:

  • Flu Isn’t Shut Down But Tracking Outbreaks Is

The last flu season jumped off to an early start and was particularly intense, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Parts of the East coast were particularly hard-hit, including Boston, which in January declared a public health emergency. 

What about the new flu season, which is almost upon us?

We may not know, because the shutdown has forced the CDC, which has furloughed 68 percent of its employees, to stop flu surveillance. This means it can’t advise travelers if they’re heading to a disease prone area, and it can’t warn vulnerable populations, like children or the elderly, of an outbreak. Large eruptions of other infectious diseases, like the recent outbreak of Hepatitis A in seven western states (traced to Turkish pomegranate seeds), may not be detected. 

  • Cleanup of Toxic Chemicals at Superfund Sites Halted

The Superfund program is the government’s effort to clean up the nation’s most dangerous uncontrolled and abandoned toxic waste sites. Cleanup work on many of the 800 contaminated federal Superfund sites has ground to a halt because of the shutdown.

Among the towns affected:  Lockport, New York, near Niagara Falls, where the Environmental Protection Agency is finalizing a plan to relocate homeowners because of PCB, lead and other contaminants, and to raze a crumbling Flintkote industrial plant along Eighteen Mile Creek; and Doylestown, Pa., outside of Philadelphia, where residents are waiting for excavation of soil to begin at the contaminated ChemFab property, a former electro-plating and metal processing facility, which had earlier polluted nearby well water with TCE, a chemical linked to liver, kidney and lung cancer. 

Emergency work at Superfund sites continues, but soil sampling, project planning and other preparatory work is suspended. Overall, an estimated 94 percent of EPA’s 16,000 employees are furloughed.

  • When the Government Isn’t Running, Runners Aren’t Either

For thousands of runners this weekend, the government shutdown will hit where it hurts—and not in their quads. They won’t be pounding trails or roads for races that were scheduled on federal property. Runners’ World notes:

  • Wilson Bridge Half Marathon in Virginia, decided to postpone the race, scheduled for October 6, until November 10.
  • A smaller D.C.-area race, the Run! Geek! Run! 8K, scheduled for October 5, has been postponed to an indefinite date. The race is held entirely within West Potomac Park, near the National Mall.
  • Another half marathon scheduled for October 6, the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Point, New Jersey, is waiting to decide how to proceed. "If the government reopens by Friday we will have the race on Sunday, October 6, 2013," reads a notice on the race's site. "If the government is still shut down, we have to cancel the race."
  • The Grindstone 100-miler, a Virginia trail race that goes through the George Washington National Forest, was scheduled to start on Friday, October 4. Race organizers have told registrants, "Since we currently do not have authorization to operate the event this weekend we have decided to postpone the race." The race's permit requires oversight from U.S. Forest Service personnel, and with those workers furloughed, "the lack of said personnel is the cause of this situation," race director Clark Zealand told Runner's World Newswire.
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