Chemical agency warns it has ‘no ability’ to respond if disaster strikes

The chemical board’s woes were among a litany of shutdown-caused federal service interruptions enumerated by a group of Democratic senators, who called upon Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to call a vote on legislation to restart the government. 

Federal programs needed to protect human lives and property are supposed to be unaffected but the shutdown. But the lawmakers said work stoppages at some agencies — including the chemical board and the Environmental Protection Agency — could leave people at unnecessary risk.

“It’s affecting, clearly, the public health. There’s no doubt about it,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) “This shutdown is harming people. “

The Fish and Wildlife Service has furloughed roughly 8,000 workers, Cardin said. At the EPA, more than 90 percent of workers – including virtually all the agency’s inspectors, added Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Cleanup operations have ceased at more than 500 so-called “superfund” sites” contaminated by hazardous materials,  Boxer said.

“EPA cannot verify the air we breathe and water we drink meet federal standards,” Boxer said. “This shutdown is real and it’s beginning to cut deep.”

The shutdown hit the Chemical Safety Board in the midst of the agency’s probe into the West explosion, which killed 15 people and obliterated roughly half of the small town.

A public meeting scheduled for later this month to discuss the investigation’s progress to date is now in limbo, Moure-Eraso said.

The explosion has been linked to the chemical ammonium nitrate. The board has concluded that the substance is present at a dozen plants around the country, where at least 10,000 people live within one mile.

The shutdown has also delayed investigations in California, Utah, Washington and elsewhere in Texas, Moure-Eraso said.

He argued that the setbacks could threaten public safety, since the agency’s mission is to investigate chemical hazards “for the purpose of making recommendations for prevention.”