EPA Inspector General: Covid-19 could affect agency’s ability to communicate health risks to communities

Covid-19 could hamper the EPA’s ability to inform communities of health risks, according to a report released this month from the agency’s Office of Inspector General. Specifically, the inspector general’s office worried the EPA might not be able to inform residents who live near facilities with emissions that could cause cancer. In a separate report from late March, the office urged EPA to take “prompt action” to inform communities. As of the March report, the EPA and state agencies had not met with or reached out to residents around 16 of the 25 “high-priority” facilities, which are located primarily around cities in the South and Midwest. The June report detailed other concerns, including personnel shortages and cutbacks to routine inspections. 

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

Meat and shopping: One more impact of the coronavirus on ordinary life

It began in mid-March when the new coronavirus became part of ordinary American life with shortages of household products like hand sanitizer, toilet paper and paper towels. Now, as May has turned to June, scarcity – and the fear of it -- is all about the meat.

As of June 6, there have been at least 20,400 reported positive cases tied to meatpacking facilities in at least 216 plants in 33 states, and at least 74 reported worker deaths, according to a Midwest Center analysis.

Food supply issues

Back in March, the coronavirus started triggering infection hotspots in and around meatpacking plants, sickening and killing workers. As local public health authorities pushed giant meat conglomerates to close infected facilities, industry executives warned that doing so was “pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply,” as Kenneth M. Sullivan, CEO of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer, declared in a April 12 press release.