Shutdown Paralyzes Crucial U.S. Safety Regulators: Nuclear, Food, Disease Control

Search form

Shutdown Paralyzes Crucial U.S. Safety Regulators: Nuclear, Food, Disease Control

Shutdown Paralyzes Crucial U.S. Safety Regulators: Nuclear, Food, Disease Control
Thu, 10/10/2013 - by Al Jazeera
This article originally appeared on Al Jazeera America

As the partial government shutdown drags into a second week, the furlough of public employees deemed “non-essential” is leaving agencies that monitor nuclear, food and workplace safety badly short-handed.

On Thursday, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will run out of funds, putting thousands of NRC employees out of work, The Hill reported. Of its 3,900 employees, only 300 will be on the job.

At a panel discussion held by environmental activists in New York City on Tuesday, former NRC Chairman Greg Jazcko assured the audience that emergency response personnel will still be available.

"There will be a number of people who will be there to provide emergency response functions in the event that there would be an accident or something like that," Jackzco said.

However, he added that the NRC would likely furlough some policy-making staff. "Certainly no new regulations will be worked on, things like that," he said.

Former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader, who is also a consumer safety activist and spoke at the conference, told Al Jazeera that the NRC's oversight abilities would likely continue to weaken.

"It depends on how long the shutdown goes on," he said. "After two weeks, they'll stop doing inspections."

Michel Lee, a nuclear industry watchdog who attended the event, said even a lack of policy regulation can lead to problems. "The key risk is the possibility that papers are going to get backlogged," Lee told Al Jazeera.

"People, when they're busy they're overstressed. They're not going to read long memos, and things are going to fall through the cracks," she said.

Also, with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whittled down to 37,826 employees – representing just 48 percent of its normal workforce – the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Agency were both left short-handed in dealing with recent reports of a salmonella outbreak found in raw chicken in California.

An estimated 278 cases of illness resulting from salmonella were reported Monday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But only two of the 80 CDC staffers from Pulsenet – the group charged with analyzing multi-state outbreaks of food poisoning – were working during the shutdown, The Associated Press reported.

The CDC took steps late Tuesday to bring back most food inspectors, plus 30 additional staff to deal with the outbreak.

The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service is continuing to operate during the shutdown. But the contingency staffing plan of HHS says that the FDA, which is largely responsible for monitoring the country's food supply in the first place, "will be unable to support the majority of its food safety, nutrition and cosmetics activities."

The agency, which monitors at least 80 percent of the country's food supply, will also "have to cease safety activities such as routine establishment inspections," including "monitoring of imports."

An FDA spokesman told NBC News that 976 of its 1,602 investigators — or 60 percent — are currently furloughed, but they "work across the agency portfolio, not just on food products."

Meanwhile, the Department of Labor's Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), which is normally staffed with 2,355 employees, is down to just 966 people with the shutdown in place.

In a statement that lamented the deaths of three miners this week, the United Mine Workers of America slammed the shutdown for creating a lack oversight in mines in the United States.

"The government's watchdog isn't watching," the union said. "Those who are working are either keeping an eye on operators and mines with a history of mine safety and health problems, or responding to special situations. But no regular inspections are taking place, even though they are required by law."

The three deaths happened on three consecutive days over the weekend, raising the number of mining deaths in the U.S. so far this year to 17, according to the Charleston Gazette.

Joe Main, the head of MSHA, said it was a "red flag" that the deaths happened during a weekend, when a government inspection would be less likely, the Gazette reported.

One West Virginia miner supervisor died when chain used to move a drilling machine hit him in the head. A heavy cart ran over another in Illinois, and a third perished when the bulldozer he was driving plummeted 150 feet at a Wyoming mine.

In addition to a winnowed MSHA, just 230 employees are working through the shutdown at the Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which usually employs 2,235 people.

Originally published by Al Jazeera America

Article Tabs

I removed the flag not only in defiance of those who enslaved my ancestors in the southern United States, but also in defiance of the oppression that continues against black people globally in 2015.

Stingray, activist surveillance, surveillance programs, KingFish, Triggerfish, Harris Corporation, California Electronic Privacy Act, ACLU, unwarranted surveillance

The multi-agency effort to acquire a controversial cellphone surveillance device would make it possible for Oakland and Fremont police to scoop up data from everyone in a given area – dragnet style.

Micah White, Occupy Wall Street, movement strategies, movement tactics, mass protests, Black Lives Matter, The End of Protest

The co-creator of Occupy Wall Street has advice for the next generation of social movements: “Never protest the same way twice.”

The HRA protects the right to life, liberty, security, a fair trial, respect for private life and freedom of expression – it also bans torture, slavery and discrimination.

By making the cost of breaking the law outweigh the cost of following it, business owners will be deterred from committing the crime in the first place.

Fight for $15, $15 minimum wage, bank bailouts, corporate subsidies,

Municipal leaders should be commended for acknowledging the current wage is too low – but phasing in a higher wage over many years is unacceptable in an economy where costs of living are rising and wages are falling.

Posted 2 days 16 hours ago
Move Your Money, Wells Fargo crimes, illegal foreclosure, subprime mortgage lending, predatory loans

The only way the big banks will feel something similar to the loss and harm they caused is if you Move Your Money from those institutions to second tier banks, community banks and credit unions – so join the campaign now.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago
right-wing extremists, right-wing attacks, jihadists, New America Foundation, War on Terror, Charleston massacre

Right-wing attacks have killed almost twice as many Americans.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago
Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, single-payer health care, uninsured Americans, right to healthcare

“What the United States should do is join every other major nation and recognize that healthcare is a right of citizenship,” said presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who advocates a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.

Posted 6 days 15 hours ago

bout time! Timeline of same-sex marriage in the United States

Posted 4 days 16 hours ago
right-wing extremists, right-wing attacks, jihadists, New America Foundation, War on Terror, Charleston massacre

Right-wing attacks have killed almost twice as many Americans.

A yes vote would mean depression almost without end – by contrast, a no vote would at least open the possibility that Greece, with its strong democratic tradition, might grasp its destiny in its own hands.

Greek debt crisis, Greek anti-austerity movement, Alexis Tsipras, Troika, Syriza party, Greek referendum, Euro crisis

Greeks will find their savings blocked and their banks closed for a week following a fateful weekend that has shaken Europe’s single currency.

carbon emissions, mercury emissions, EPA, Clean Air Act

The Supreme Court invalidated a key Obama administration environmental regulation aimed at limiting emissions of mercury and other hazardous pollutants mainly from coal-fired power plants.

Sign Up