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EPA Steps Up Health Protocol for Cleanup at Toxic Waste Sites

April 23, 2020, 1:16 PM

Emergency medical technicians and thermometers should be on hand when conducting toxic waste cleanups to reduce exposure to the coronavirus, the EPA said in an internal memo released Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency is seeking to limit the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, at Superfund sites, the most contaminated properties in the country. In the new memo, the agency is recommending having an EMT on site and monitoring staff for coronavirus symptoms, like a fever or cough, while conducting cleanup.

Each site’s safety officer should take body temperatures of all staff on a daily basis, the EPA’s memo said. For incidents like spills, explosions, or natural disasters that require a large number of responders, staff should consider assigning a safety team to focus on social distancing, handwashing protocol, and other health precautions.

“These guidelines are a consolidated list of health and safety best practices to protect EPA staff and contractors while responding to incidents and conducting work on Superfund sites” during the pandemic, an EPA spokesman said.

When traveling, staff should opt to drive instead of flying, the memo said. Staff should also book hotels with in-room kitchens, purchasing groceries once a week and cooking in the room to avoid eating at restaurants.

The memo was obtained by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility and distributed through a press release Wednesday.

The organization is concerned the EPA’s memo doesn’t give staff enough detailed information on what protective gear the agency will provide or who should refrain from site visits.

The agency noted in previous guidance that it would decide on a site-by-site basis whether certain cleanup work can safely continue, while following social distancing guidelines and travel restrictions.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sylvia Carignan in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at; Anna Yukhananov at

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