As Staff Dwindles, Chicago EPA Prepares for Major Role in Hurricane Cleanup

With its budget sliced and its staffing cut dramatically, the Chicago EPA said it is on standby to play a major role in cleanup efforts following Hurricane Irma. 

EPA workers are in demand as preparations for the extremely dangerous hurricane continue into the weekend. 

Officials said their biggest concerns were oil spills and power disruptions to water supply systems.

Chemist Lilly Simmons and Heriberto Leon with the Chicago office said they are both prepared to go wherever they are needed in wake of the potentially devastating storm. 

"A lot of it involves going door to door, knocking on people's doors asking them about the types of contaminents that they may have in the house so that we can assist them in getting rid of those of an event such as a hurricane," said Leon. 

Leon said Chicago employees have already received an email asking for their ability in the coming weeks. 

The deadly hurricane scraped Cuba's northern coast Friday on a course toward Florida, leaving in its wake a ravaged string of Caribbean resort islands strewn with splintered lumber, corrugated metal and broken concrete. By Friday afternoon, the death toll stood at 21 and was expected to rise as rescuers reached some of the hardest-hit areas.

But while the Chicago employees and their coworkers are bracing for their role in the cleanup efforts, the regional office has seen its budget sliced. 

"We've lost quite a bit of staff in the last few weeks," Leon said. 

Twenty-eight employees took buyouts this week alone, officials said. 

"With all the work that we have to pick up from the people who have left, in addition to that we're having to provide additional manpower and resources to these other regions that are experiencing these disasters," Leon said. 

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