By Gina McCarthy
EPA is, at its core, a public health agency. The simple fact is, you can’t have healthy people or a strong economy without clean air, clean water, healthy land, and a stable climate. And we’ve come a long way over the last 45 years to help protect those resources for the American people.
But we haven’t done it alone. EPA shares the responsibility of protecting public health and the environment with state environmental and health officials. We depend on these partnerships every day to achieve our missions.
That’s why I am really proud to announce that EPA, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to work even more closely together to share information and advance public health protection in the United States.
I got my start as a local health official in my hometown of Canton, Massachusetts and then worked for the states of Massachusetts and Connecticut before joining EPA. Whether I was investigating asthma triggers or helping a community deal with contamination from a local chemical facility, I quickly learned that public health and environmental health are one and the same. I also learned that effective protection happens when people at every level of government work together.
That’s why this partnership is a big deal. By working together—not just with state environmental commissioners at ECOS, but with health officials at ASTHO—we can do more to prevent environmental exposure and keep people healthy.
Since EPA was established, we have made tremendous progress together in protecting Americans’ health from pollution. Fifty years ago, our smokestacks, cars, and trucks pumped out black soot unabated. Rivers burned, litter was widespread, we pumped toxic leaded gas into our cars, and we even smoked cigarettes on airplanes. One newspaper headline described the smog in Los Angeles as “a dirty gray blanket flung across the city.”
Forty-five years later, by working with our state partners, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent, we’ve cleaned up beaches and waterways from industrial pollution, and we’ve helped pregnant women and mothers have healthier and safer children—all while our national GDP has tripled.
But not everyone has shared fully in these benefits. Too many communities have been left behind—especially low-income and minority communities—which face disproportionate levels of pollution, and suffer disproportionate health impacts.
Recent events in Flint, Michigan and in struggling communities across the country show that environment and health officials at all levels of government need to find ways to be more responsive, innovative, and inclusive. Today’s MOA is an important step toward expanding our engagement and sharing information to protect all Americans from environmental health threats.
Moving forward, we’ll look at how states and EPA are tapping into each other’s expertise, whether we have the technologies, tools, and investments necessary to protect people—and how to best focus on underserved communities that are too often left behind, so we can meet the challenges of the future.
That’s why I’m so proud of today’s MOA. Because by working with our nation’s health and environmental experts, we can help keep our kids healthy and our economy strong.