by Sue Ann Rybak
As the U.S. government shutdown approaches its third week, Roxborough resident Mindi Snoparsky, a hydrogeologist at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a member of the EPA Union AFGE, said the shutdown affects more than just federal workers paychecks – it is halting important government services and placing human lives at risk.
“I work in the superfund program in the EPA, which is involved in cleaning up hazardous waste sites [For example former sites include Love Canal or Valley of the Drums], which are abandoned or not currently operating,” she said.
EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. The Region 3 Office located at 1650 Arch St. in Philadelphia serves Pennsylvania, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
Snoparsky, 62, is one of the more than 700 employees at the EPA’s Philadelphia office who are currently furloughed or required to work without pay, since the agency ran out of funding on Dec. 31. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 30,000 federal employees who work in Philadelphia.
In a recent telephone interview with the Local, she voiced her concern about the lack of media attention on government services that aren’t being provided since the partial shutdown began on Dec. 22. The shutdown affects more than 800,000 federal workers in nine different departments including Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing, Urban Development, State, Transportation, and Treasury, as well as federal agencies like the EPA.
“Even though we are a regulatory agency, we have hydrologists, toxicologists and biologists accessing scientifically what’s going on in the ground water, in the surface water, in the soil, in the air and how they need to be cleaned up. It’s based on risk to human health and the environment, which is why we need toxicologists,” Snoparsky said.
“As a hydrogeologist, I have like 30-40 sites that I work on,” she said. “Not all at one time. They are all at different stages. There is always some sampling going on, data to check or a conference call with the private sites.”
For example, Snoparsky said in Bucks and Montgomery counties water is contaminated with industrial chemicals known as perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS. According to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer in December 2018, the military has taken responsibility for contaminating the water in the townships of Horsham, Warrington, and Warminster with chemicals they were using in firefighting foams at two former military bases: Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and Former Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster.
PFAS chemicals are used to make consumer products resistant to water, grease or stains, including Gore-Tex rain gear, Teflon no-stick cookware and Scotchguard stain-repellant for carpets or furniture fabric. PFAS has also been used in several types of military firefighting foam.
She said that because of the shutdown the EPA is not working with the military or other private contractors on projects like this.
“These kinds of things you have to keep on top of day after day and obviously we are not doing anything.” she said.
“I think when the superfund started there were lots of articles about how we were cleaning up, but now [during the shutdown], it’s only about our paychecks. No one is talking how we effect the public’ lives on a day-to-day basis.”
Every day the government remains shutdown, Snoparsky worries not just about the balance in her checkbook or her friends, but the lack of urgency and attention given to the air we breathe, the water we drink and the food we eat.
The Roxborough resident said clean air, clean water and access to nutritious and healthy food shouldn’t be a partisan issue.
Sue Ann Rybak can be reached at 215-248-8804 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was updated on Jan. 16. An earlier version incorrectly stated that “They [the military] are using chemicals used in firefighting foams at two former military bases: Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base Willow Grove and Former Naval Air Warfare Center Warminster.”