October 9, 2013
Air traffic controllers are still monitoring the skies and the FBI is still searching for bad guys, but serious health and safety issues remain as the government shutdown grinds into its second week.
Cutbacks and furloughs are hampering investigations ranging from a fatal subway accident in Washington, the heart of the shutdown crisis, to a salmonella outbreak that has sickened people in at least 18 Western states. Domestic violence shelters are threatened, mine safety could be, and efforts to improve vital weather forecasting are on hold.
"Every day that the shutdown continues, we are going to see increased risk to ... the public and workers and people who are particularly vulnerable," said Ronald White, director of regulatory policy at the non-profit Center for Effective Government. "There is a whole scope of protections that are deteriorating as the shutdown continues."
In 18 states, 278 people have been sickened in a salmonella outbreak linked to chicken produced in California. Caroline Smith DeWaal, food-safety director at the consumer advocacy Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was flying blind when its investigation began. The reason: The shutdown forced closure of PulseNet, a national computer network that connects 87 public health laboratories and looks for trends in foodborne illness outbreaks.
"They had been trying to work on this outbreak for a week, doing information exchange by phone and e-mail and found the volume of data was too large," DeWaal said. She said the CDC informed her that seven of the eight PulseNet employees had been brought back to work and that PulseNet was back in business Tuesday.
When a bus crash killed eight people in Tennessee on Oct. 2, the National Transportation Safety Board said it could not send anyone to investigate the crash because of the government shutdown. Days later, when an explosion in a tunnel killed a Washington Metro worker, the NTSB again declined to send a team.
About 2,000 domestic violence agencies, partially funded through the Office on Violence Against Women and other federal programs, are running on reserves and many could close next week, said Cindy Southworth, vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence.
"Our shelters and our hotlines are at risk of shutting down imminently," Southworth said.
The Mine Safety and Health Administration has about 40% of its staff working and is conducting limited mine inspections. There were three coal mine fatalities Oct. 4-6, days after the shutdown began. The industry had not had three consecutive days of fatal accidents in a decade.
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