Environmental Protection Agency staffers in Georgia made cleaning up a
local creek a ‘do it yourself’ project.
Protection Agency (EPA) in Atlanta may be out of a paycheck for now,
but they’re not giving up on service.
On Oct. 8, 15 staffers from the agency’s Atlanta office headed down to
a trash-filled urban stream that a local business owner had complained
about, and cleaned it up.
“As we planned the cleanup, we had to exchange cell phone numbers
because we usually use our work email and phones to communicate in the
office—and, well, all of that was going to be shut down, too,” said
Lisa Gordon, biologist.
Because of the shutdown, 94 percent of the 16,204 total EPA employees
have been placed on indefinite furlough, according to the agency’s
contingency plan. Agency investigations of toxic air emissions, water
contamination, and waste-dumping have been suspended.
The Water Protection Division staff began planning the cleanup as soon
as the furlough was announced, according to Gordon. One of the office
workers who had experience organizing cleanups pitched the idea to
those who owned kayaks, which the team anticipated needing to access
By the next day, several employees were posting the plan on Facebook.
“The response was quick and unanimous,” Gordon said.
The group had planned to go to the Chattahoochee, one of the larger
rivers in the area, to remove trash from the water and shoreline. That
plan was hindered by another result of the government shutdown: The
boat ramps maintained by the National Park Service were not in
The volunteers gave up on the Chattahoochee and decided to clean up a
stream that “needed some love,” as Gordon put it. The small, unnamed
tributary to the South Fork Peachtree Creek leads right into a nearby
The EPA staffers also proposed that other furloughed workers join them
in declaring Oct. 8 “Federal Furlough for Public Service Day.” The
employees donated their time in what they’re referring to as a
meaningful, positive service project. Furloughed staff members at the
nearby Centers for Disease Control and Prevention joined in the
effort. “It may sound sappy,” Gordon said, “but all of us really
believe that our life’s work is to protect and restore rivers and
streams for people and animals that rely on them—paid or not.”