Tuesday morning, 94 percent of the Environmental Protection Agency's 16,000 workers were furloughed due to the government shutdown.
"They basically lock things up, batten things down, which takes a few hours, then a vast majority of people are sent home," says consultant Dina Kruger, who worked at the EPA during the 1996 government shutdown.
To make sense of what it means that over 15,000 EPA employees are now sitting at home instead of working, consider how many facets of the environment the agency has its hands in: The EPA monitors air quality, regulates pesticides and waste, cleans up hazardous chemical spills, and ensures that people have safe drinking water, among other things. Now, according to the plan it laid out for the shutdown, only some workers will be on hand to respond to emergencies and to monitor labs and property.
That means the EPA will temporarily halt clean-up at 507 superfund sites across the country, the agency told the Huffington Post. Sites where the EPA was cleaning up hazardous chemicals are shuttered in any situation where closing them down won't be an immediate threat to the surroundings. This will slow down clean-ups and tack on additional costs that will accrue as these contaminated sites are left to their own devices, says Scott Slesinger, legislative director at the National Resources Defense Council and a former EPA employee. "The only sites that would be exempted would be those that, if they stopped working tomorrow, contaminants will immediately get into the drinking water," Slesinger says.