public health

An EPA where the “P” stands for Partnership

By John Kemmerer

As you know, partnerships with local communities and agencies at all levels are critically important to EPA’s protection of public health and the environment.  EPA is one of 14 agencies working to revitalize urban waterways and surrounding communities through the Urban Waters Federal Partnership.

I engage in this work, as do our partners, because we’ve seen that when all stakeholders have a seat at the table, we can make a substantive difference.  I nominated the Los Angeles River Watershed as one of the first Urban Waters Partnership locations in 2011 after being impressed by visionary, yet practical, local initiatives to revitalize the river.  Our partnership in the Los Angeles River Watershed provides a real opportunity for us to help make this natural asset the centerpiece of a healthy and sustainable community.

The partnership initially coalesced around a single priority, an ongoing Ecosystem Restoration Feasibility Study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the City of L.A.  Completion of this study would be the first domino to fall to begin river revitalization in earnest, but federal funding was lacking.  The newly formed partnership collaborated on strategies for bridging this funding gap and a local NGO received a private donation which was transferred to the USACE to finish the study.  Once the study was completed, in 2013 the partnership built public awareness for the locally preferred project alternative ultimately accepted by the USACE. Implementation of this restoration plan will dramatically change the landscape, result in wide-ranging recreational benefits, help the river adapt to climate change, improve water quality, and replenish local groundwater supplies.

Already, members of the partnership have been able to expand recreational opportunities to bring people to the river, including kayaking programs and the certification of Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, and are making the watershed more resilient to the impacts of climate change via programs such as the Bureau of Reclamation and Los Angeles County’s Los Angeles Basin Stormwater Conservation Study.

As the lead federal agency in the L.A. River Urban Waters Partnership, EPA has provided funding for a dedicated coordinator, known as the Urban Waters Ambassador, ensuring each stakeholder has a place in the partnership and facilitating collaboration towards common goals.  Pauline Louie, an employee of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been the Ambassador here since 2012.  Pauline has been dedicated to building relationships among partners and finding opportunities to leverage investments, greatly increasing our collective ability to focus on underserved communities and opening doors that will enable continued progress in years to come.

Our Ambassador has even brought the finance world into the partnership.  For example, our new relationship with the Federal Reserve Bank recently gave the partnership the opportunity to showcase our work to the banking sector at the Community Reinvestment Conference in Los Angeles and discuss how the private sector can engage to advance long-term community priorities along the river.

Cultivating long-term and new relationships allows the Urban Waters Partnership in Los Angeles to not only address past challenges but also be prepared for the challenges in the future. We are motivated to realizing a healthy L.A. River Watershed and hopeful for the exciting transformations that these partnerships catalyze in Los Angeles and urban waters locations across the country.

About the author: “With over 30 years of EPA experience, John Kemmerer is the Associate Water Director for EPA’s Region 9. John’s focus includes water issues in Southern California and sustainability of local water resources.”

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Public Health and Environmental Protection

By supporting health professionals and embracing our obligations to promote public health and protect our planet, we can uphold our shared responsibility to preserve the promise of a happy and healthy life for our children and grandchildren.
–President Barack Obama

By Tom Burke

Portrait of Tom BurkePresident Obama recently marked National Public Health Week with a Proclamation noting the inextricable link between public health and protecting the planet.  As the Agency’s Science Advisor and Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Research and Development, making that connection is my number one goal.

I am committed to ensuring that what our scientists and engineers learn continually flows to those who can put it to use: public health officials and their partners. At EPA, we are not satisfied until our science has positive impact on protecting drinking water, lowering risks and impacts from environmental exposures, and bringing the benefits of a cleaner environment to every community and citizen.

Luckily, I have a lot of support. I am privileged to work in a place surrounded by some of the world’s leading environmental and public health researchers. They are the go-to experts for every environmental and health related challenge our nation faces. From ongoing efforts to address climate change to the emerging concerns of the potential spread of the Zika virus, EPA scientists and engineers are working tirelessly to protect public health. And what they learn is not only meeting the most immediate threats to public health, but advancing healthier, more sustainable communities for our children and grandchildren.

A great example of how we build partnerships unfolded just this morning when Administrator Gina McCarthy announced that EPA, the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) signed a Memorandum of Agreement to work even more closely together to share information and advance public health protection in the United States. Read more about that exciting news in her blog post, Expanding EPA’s Partnerships with State Health and Environmental Experts.

Watching EPA science reach those who need it most is one of the best parts of my job. While I enjoy that work every day, President Obama’s remarks about National Public Health Week and our partnership with ECOS and ASHTO remind me to stop and savor it just a bit more than usual.

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development as well as the Agency’s Science Advisor. He served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health before coming to EPA. Before his time at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Burke was Deputy Commissioner of Health for the State of New Jersey and Director of the Office of Science and Research in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Expanding EPA’s Partnership with State Health and Environmental Experts

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.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Global Climate Action at COP-21

By EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

This week, I’m proud to be in Paris, where the United States and countries around the world are working toward an ambitious global climate agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties, also known as COP-21.

Since day one in office, President Obama has recognized that climate change is not just an environmental concern. It’s an urgent matter of public health, our economy, and our security.

And we were reminded by Pope Francis earlier this year that acting on climate isn’t just the smart thing to do, it’s our moral responsibility—for the sake of the world’s poor and vulnerable, and on behalf of our kids and grandkids.

That’s why the work going on here Paris—where hundreds of the world’s nations are coming together and collaborating on a path forward—is so important. The global community has never before been so close to consensus on this issue. A historic agreement is at our fingertips.

Today at the State Department’s U.S. Center at COP-21, I spoke about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) role in this international effort, and how EPA is delivering on President Obama’s climate agenda.

Over the past 7 years, The U.S. has taken a series of ambitious actions to cut the carbon pollution driving climate change, and demonstrate that the U.S. is fulfilling our responsibility to act. All told, the steps we’ve taken under President Obama’s leadership will help the United States reach our national goal of cutting carbon pollution 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

Whether it’s the Department of Agriculture’s “Climate Smart Agriculture” initiative to cut carbon pollution by over 120 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent by 2025, or the several dozen utility-scale renewable energy projects that the Department of Interior has permitted on public lands, or NASA’s cutting-edge scientific efforts to monitor Earth-system changes. The list goes on and on.

A centerpiece of U.S. efforts is EPA’s Clean Power Plan, our historic rule to cut carbon pollution from the power sector, the largest source in the U.S. economy. Our plan puts the United States on track to slash carbon pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. And the cuts to smog and soot that come along with these reductions will lead to major health benefits for kids and families.

And EPA is taking a host of additional steps to push our progress even further. We’re doubling the distance our nation’s cars go on a gallon of gas by 2025. We’ve taken four separate actions to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. We’re acting on climate-damaging Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), domestically, internationally, and through voluntary programs with industry. We set standards for medium-and heavy-duty vehicles and are now going even further with a proposal that will reduce 1 billion tons of emissions.

I’m confident these actions will stand the test of time. Why? Because EPA has a 45-year legacy of finding lasting solutions to difficult environmental problems. In that time, we’ve cut air pollution by 70 percent while our nation’s economy has tripled.
In the U.S., we’re already seeing clean-energy innovations being rewarded. Today, the U.S. uses 3 times more wind power, and 20 times more solar than when President Obama first took office. Jobs in the solar industry are growing faster than in any other sector of our economy—good-paying jobs that grow opportunity in the communities that need it most. Our actions under President Obama’s leadership build on that trajectory.

And we’ve seen time and again the American people are ready to act on climate now. We heard from millions of people on our initial proposal for the Clean Power Plan. We heard from states, utility companies, environmental organizations, and communities across our country. What we heard is that people want to stop talking and start doing. In poll after poll, a majority of Americans say they want climate action. That’s how we know our actions will endure.

But we also know that no country can solve this challenge alone.

That’s why I’m so encouraged by the ambitious commitments we’re seeing from nations around the world. Heading into the COP-21, 180 countries, representing more than 90 percent of greenhouse gas emissions already submitted national plans to reduce their emissions. That’s big.

Here in Paris, our collective efforts are finally aligning. Now is our time.

For the sake of our children and grandchildren, it’s time to come together and do what’s necessary to protect our common home.

Stay up-to-date on U.S. Center events here, and follow my trip on Twitter @GinaEPA.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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CEC Meeting a Win for Public Health in North America

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Administrator Gina McCarthy closes the 2015 CEC Council Session in Boston.

Last week, I was thrilled to host the Canadian Environment Minister and Mexican Environment Deputy Secretary at the 22nd Regular Session of the Council for the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC) in my hometown of Boston.

The CEC is an organization created by the United States, Canada and Mexico to address environmental concerns in North America—because pollution doesn’t carry a passport. As Chair, I represented the U.S. Government on the Council and took the lead in discussing our future as neighbors and allies in protecting public health and the environment.

Impacts from climate change like more extreme droughts, floods, fires, and storms threaten vulnerable communities in North America and beyond. And along the way, those who have the least suffer the most. That’s why our three nations are committed to working together to tackle climate challenges. I’m looking forward to continuing our cooperation this fall in Paris as we work to bring about concrete international action on climate.

At this year’s session, the Council endorsed a new 5-year blueprint to help us tackle environmental challenges our nations face together. We’ll focus on climate change: from adaptation to mitigation; from green energy to green growth; from sustainable communities to healthy ecosystems. The plan presents our shared priorities to make the most of each other’s efforts to address environmental challenges.

Looking toward the future, we discussed the possibility of using the CEC as a way to address climate impacts on other important environmental challenges like water quantity and quality, renewable energy, energy efficiency, and oceans.

During our conversations, EPA’s Trash Free Waters program caught the interest of the other ministers on the Council. Through community outreach and education, EPA is working to reduce the amount of litter that goes into our lakes, streams and oceans. We discussed ways we could build on its success and expand it to other cities in North America.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada's Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico's Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

Administrator Gina McCarthy with Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s Minister for the Environment, and Rodolfo Lacy Tamayo, Mexico’s Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, at the 22nd Annual Council Session of the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation.

The Council also reaffirmed the CEC’s Operational Plan for 2015–2016, which is focused on producing tangible outcomes and measurable results. The plan proposes 16 new projects that bring together our experts on work like reducing maritime shipping emissions to protect our health from air pollution, and strengthening protections for monarch butterflies and pollinators.

We named a new roster of experts on traditional ecological knowledge from Canada, Mexico and the United States. Alongside science, traditional knowledge helps us understand our environment, helping us better protect it. The experts will work with the CEC’s Joint Public Advisory Committee (JPAC) to advise the Council on ways to apply traditional ecological knowledge to the CEC’s operations and policy recommendations.

We also announced the third cycle of the North American Partnership for Environmental Community Action grants, a program that supports hands-on projects for low-income, underserved and indigenous communities across North America. The program supports communities’ climate-related activities and encourages the transition to a low-carbon economy.

We ended the meeting with Mexico assuming chairmanship for the upcoming year. It’s an honor to work with our neighbors to address environmental challenges head-on, and to make sure North America leads on global climate action. When we do, we protect our citizens’ health, our economy, and our way of life. Learn more here.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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New Online Resources Available for Local Leaders and Community Members

During my 38 years at EPA, I’ve had a chance to work here in Washington, D.C., in Research Triangle Park, in Dallas, and in Atlanta. In each of my roles, I’ve had many opportunities to meet with local leaders who are working hard to address concerns in their communities. So I know protecting environmental quality and public health happens most directly at the local level.

That’s why making a visible difference in communities is one of our top priorities for EPA. We are looking for ways we can support local officials juggling multiple responsibilities, as well as residents eager for information they can use to take action and improve local conditions.

So I’m excited about a new resource we’ve launched specifically for local officials and citizens. The Community Resources website gives visitors easy access to three unique resources that can help with a variety of local environmental and public health issues:

  • The Local Government Environmental Assistance Network (LGEAN) website offers information to help communities understand and meet federal and state environmental regulatory requirements. Developed in partnership with the International City / County Management Association, it’s one of several compliance assistance centers EPA supports. Along with media-specific information, LGEAN also includes information to help with issues ranging from sustainable environmental management to transportation to public safety.
  • The National Resource Network website offers practical solutions to help communities reach their goals for growth and economic development. Established by HUD in cooperation with the White House Council on Strong Cities, Strong Communities, it offers local government officials a Resource Library to help with practical solutions and analyses, as well as a “311 for Cities” service that enables them to request and quickly receive assistance on a wide range of topics.
  • And EPA’s Community Health website gives users resources to help improve local environmental health conditions. It provides access to information about beach closures, fish advisories, toxic emissions, and other public health issues. Visitors can also find information about applying for EPA grants and technical assistance.

We hope you’ll find this new site helpful. We invite you to check it out and then, click on the link to give us your feedback. We want to hear how we can improve the site to help local officials and community members across the country find the resources that are most important to them.

The Community Resources site is just one way we are working to make a visible difference in communities. Let me share a few examples of work happening on the ground around the country:

  • In Lawrence, Massachusetts, we awarded a brownfields grant that will help the community cleanup and revitalize a neighborhood marked by abandoned and polluted industrial properties. Check out this short video that features Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera and Massachusetts Rep. Niki Tsongas as they describe what this support will mean for the community.
  • In Wheeling, West Virginia, we joined local residents in exploring how it can transform an old apple orchard in an historic part of town into a regional hub for local foods. This work is part of the Local Foods, Local Places Initiative, which involves USDA and other federal agencies in helping communities develop local food systems as a means of revitalizing traditional downtowns and promoting economic diversification. Listen to what the Reinvent Wheeling’s Jack Dougherty has to say about this effort in this story by WV Public Radio.
  • In Fresno, California, we have been working with other state and federal agencies to help spur economic development and revitalization as part of the Obama Administration’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities Initiative. A new EPA report drawing on that work describes 30 strategies to help local governments overcome obstacles and encourage infill development, particularly in distressed communities. As many communities across the country have learned, infill development saves money through the more efficient use of tax dollars, increases property values, and improves quality of life. We’re excited about how it can help Fresno, and many other communities that recognize the benefits of reinvesting and restoring what were once vibrant neighborhoods.

Whether working on tools and information to help communities address priority issues or working right alongside community leaders, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and I are proud of the work EPA is doing to help communities build a greener, healthier, more prosperous future. We look forward to sharing more examples of how we are supporting communities in reaching their goals.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Sharing Best Sustainability Practices with Communities

One of the most rewarding parts of my job here at EPA is the work we do with climate and energy program staff from communities and tribes across the country. These sustainability professionals are tireless organizers, skilled problem solvers, and endlessly enthusiastic about helping residents and businesses reduce greenhouse gas emissions and energy use, improve air quality and public health, create jobs, and save money. Despite common challenges they face I am always impressed by how much local sustainability professionals are able to accomplish with so little. By taking action on climate in their own back yards, they are building stronger and healthier communities – and looking out for all of our futures.

Part of our job here is to help local government employees achieve success. Our Local Climate and Energy Program conducts continued outreach by hosting webcasts, sending out newsletters about resources and funding opportunities, and producing resources and tools of our own.
Our latest round of resources are written by communities, for communities. Each resource was driven by community needs, inspired by actual implementation experiences, and informed by staff who have developed successful climate and energy programs. They provide practical steps for communities to follow when building or growing a climate and energy program. These new resources are the result of strong relationships we have built with communities and tribes across the country who have invested in achieving climate and energy results in their own backyards.

Local Climate Action Framework

This online guide provides step-by-step guidance and resources for local governments to plan, implement, and evaluate climate, energy, and sustainability projects and programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. It captures lessons learned and effective strategies used by local governments, breaks down program implementation into concrete steps, and curates resources to help local governments find the information they need. The framework was developed with extensive input from local government stakeholders, including our Climate Showcase Communities.

Effective Practices for Implementing Local Climate and Energy Programs Tip Sheets

This series of nineteen tip sheets was developed based on the experience and feedback of our Climate Showcase Communities. Each tip sheet focuses on a different aspect of program operation and highlights best practices and helpful resources discovered or used by these communities. Topics include marketing and communications (effective messaging, traditional media strategies, community-based social marketing, and testimonial videos) and working with specific types of stakeholders (institutional partners, contractors, experts, utilities, early adopters, volunteers).

Local Climate and Energy Program Model Design Guide

This guide was developed for local climate and clean energy (i.e., energy efficiency, renewable energy, and combined heat and power) program implementers to help create or transition to program designs that are viable over the long term. The guide draws on the experience and examples of our Climate Showcase Communities as they developed innovative models for programs that could be financially viable over the long term and replicated in other communities.

Although climate change is a global issue, many critical actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and to promote resilience can be initiated locally. Cities and towns across the U.S. are taking real action against climate change by talking to other communities and sharing practical step-by-step advice on planning and implementing local climate and energy programs,. I am thankful for the valuable input EPA received from local and tribal government stakeholders as we developed these resources and welcome feedback about the new materials.

About the author:

Andrea Denny is the Local Climate and Energy Program Lead in the State and Local Branch of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The branch focuses on supporting state and local governments that are developing policies and programs to address climate change.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Public Health and the Environment: We’re All in this Together

By Dr. Wayne Cascio

“Public health does not exist in a vacuum. It is intrinsically linked to education, employment, the environment and our economy. There is a whole world beyond hospital corridors and clinic waiting rooms where people are struggling with issues of transportation, housing and development.”

These inspirational words were spoken by Dr. Vivek Murthy, the newly-commissioned 19th Surgeon General of the United States.

Swearing in of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in Conmy Hall on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall April 22, 2015, in Arlington, Va. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, PAO photo by Damien Salas)

Vice President Joe Biden administers the oath to incoming U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, April 22, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, by Damien Salas)

Dr. Murthy made the above remarks as he addressed those gathered at Fort Myers in northern Virginia on April 22, 2015 at his formal commissioning. The event included the ceremonial passing of the emblem of the U.S. Public Health Service Commission Corp, symbolizing the acceptance of responsibility to lead the more than 6,500 officers working throughout the U.S. and abroad to protect human health.

As “America’s Doctor,” Dr. Murthy brings enormous passion and understanding of challenges that face the nation and the world. Importantly for our Agency and the American people, this includes the recognition and acknowledgment that our health and the environment in which we live are inexorably linked. Dr. Murthy embraces the understanding that a healthy environment is necessary for healthy people.

“We will work to move from a culture of treatment to one of prevention. But while the mark of a great nation may be in how we care for our most vulnerable, the test of a strong nation is how good we are at keeping them from getting sick in the first place,” he said.

I had the great fortune to be in attendance to hear such remarks first hand. I found the experience inspirational, reaffirming the principles of why I initially chose to become a physician, and again why I chose to redirect my medical career several years ago to advancing environmental public health.

To the many members of the Commissioned Corp working within the EPA we salute you for your service and commitment to our Country and people throughout the world, most notably for your recent work in West Africa in the fight against ebola. We here at the EPA look forward to being Dr. Murthy’s partners as we strive to protect public health and our environment.

About the Author: Dr. Wayne Cascio spent more than 25 years as a cardiologist before joining EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he now leads research on the links between exposures to air pollution and public health, and how people can use that information to maintain healthy hearts.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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Choosing Public Health in the U.S./Mexico Border City of Laredo, Texas

by Hector Gonzalez, M.D.MPH

The City of Laredo, Texas is the gateway city on the border between the United States and Mexico. The city has four international bridges crossing the Rio Grande that supports 47 percent of U.S. international trade headed for Mexico and more than 36 percent of Mexico’s international trade into the U.S.

Laredo is the second largest port of entry in the United States and is also home to the largest inland port along the border. A vibrant and diverse city, Laredo also has communities that bear disproportionate burdens of environmental harm, public health disparities, and economic problems (up to 40% of the population is uninsured). The international flow of trade, as well as potential pollutants on both sides of the border, compound health disparities already present and heighten the potential for health hazards (many of which necessitate some sort of public health response).

2015-05-13-ej-1

In recent years, Laredo, like other U.S./Mexico Border communities, has taken important strides to improve healthier outcomes and safeguard the environment. Planning and taking strategic steps to improve the city’s economic condition and to address critical public health issues is part of the intervention. Such planning includes engaging citizens in public decision-making, providing greater access to outdoor spaces, educating people about public health and prevention through healthier choices, and establishing new developments that enhance the overall quality of life for all residents. With our “Healthy Living/Viviendo Mejor and Active Living Plan” we have challenged our community to think healthier and to build and plan with health in mind (such as walking clubs, healthier eating and nutrition education, and the Mayor’s Active Living Task Force).

One of the city’s showcase projects is the Haynes Health and Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art park in Laredo that provides open access to indoor and outdoor exercise areas and community spaces, such as a pool, rooftop gardens, and a playground equipped for special-needs children. This park, funded jointly through public funds, private funds, and EPA brownfields funds, is a prime example of how green infrastructure and engaging the community in public decision-making can uplift emerging communities.

The primary mission of the Haynes Center is to provide the public with access to recreational facilities as a way to improve their overall quality of life. The presence of a public recreation center also serves to connect the community around central values. With public access to trails and facilities comes increased public participation in regular exercise regimes and a greater appreciation for the outdoors. In addition, a building like the Haynes Center promotes unity and well-being throughout the entire community.

In 2004, Laredo passed a Green Space Ordinance, which aims to achieve both economic development and environmental protection goals. The ordinance requires developers to include green space when constructing a new development.  For instance, the new outlet mall scheduled to be built along the Rio Grande River will feature a community waterpark on the riverfront.  This development allows businesses to set up shop in Laredo, but also gives the community an outdoor public area that will entice more children to play outside.  For developments in areas that already have designated green space, developers are encouraged to make additions. Overall, the Green Space Ordinance encourages more community areas that encourage more time spent outdoors.

And the most notable feature of Laredo’s decision to put public health as “our choice,” is that we have engaged citizens through the Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee (CEAC) and the Laredo Health Coalition. CEAC is a group of professionals and environmental advocates hailing from a diverse range of backgrounds who weigh in on proposed city plans and ordinances, effectively providing a voice for the people. These meetings are publicly announced, and there is a time for community issues to be brought before the committee. Once consensus is reached on an issue, a recommendation letter is drafted and sent to the decision-making body, and the city council takes action. The CEAC played a tremendous role in the plastic bag ban ordinance, as well as a program to offer deposits on used tires to prevent tire discards into the Rio Grande River and the environment.

In Laredo, putting citizens first is our public responsibility and one we feel very proud of. And when you put citizens first, it becomes a healthier community for all.

About the author: Dr. Hector Gonzalez is the director of the City of Laredo Health Department. He has more than 30 years experience in public health and is committed and determined to ensuring the protection, well-being, and disease control in Laredo and Webb County.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Linking Up: Making Every Day Earth Day

By Tom Burke, Ph.D.

Today marks my first Earth Day as the Deputy Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. This is the one day of the year when people around the world unite to celebrate our planet, and I’m thrilled to be at a place where strengthening the links between a healthy environment and healthy communities are at the forefront of everything we do.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

Eagle parents tend to their eaglets.

I began my day today checking in on the month-old eaglets up near Codorus State Park in Pennsylvania. The chicks are flourishing and provide a wonderful metaphor for the remarkable progress that has been made since the first Earth Day 45 years ago. What started as a collective unease about the state of local waterways, polluted lands, and haze-obscured views across urban neighborhoods was soon amplified in screaming national headlines about rivers on fire, and Rachel Carson’s best-selling book Silent Spring outlining the dangers of the indiscriminant use of the chemical pesticide DDT.

Such events helped spark the realization that when it comes to our environment, we are all in this together. And it was science—much of it led or conducted by EPA researchers—that taught us how to turn environmental concerns into action.

By understanding how particulate matter and other pollutants in the air relate to asthma rates and longevity, between lead exposure and childhood development, and between disease and contaminated water, local public health officials know what steps they can take to better protect people.

That track record for responsive science is why EPA labs are always among the first called when environmental emergencies strike, such as the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico or when harmful algal blooms threatened Toledo’s drinking water supply. EPA expertise is counted on to help local officials identify hazards, know what tests to conduct, and when to issue or lift health advisories.

And what’s more, that same expertise is also driving innovative research that is not only helping communities become more resilient today, but developing the tools, models, and solutions to lower risks and advance sustainability for the future. Just a small sampling of examples include:

  • Our researchers have teamed up with colleagues at NASA, NOAA, and the U.S. Geological Survey to develop ways to tap satellite data to monitor water quality and better predict harmful algal blooms.
  • Empowering scientists and communities alike to tap a new generation of small, inexpensive, and portable air sensors to track air quality through The Village Green Project and others.
  • Our Healthy Heart campaign helps cardiac healthcare professionals use existing and emerging research to educate their patients about the link between air quality and their health—and to take action to avoid exposures during “ozone alert” days.
  • Advancing sophisticated computational toxicology methods and technologies through partnerships such as Tox21 to usher in a new paradigm of faster and far less expensive chemical screening techniques.
  • Providing data and mapping tools such as EPA’s EnviroAtlas that help community planners and other citizens identify, quantify, and sustain the many benefits they get from the natural ecosystems that surround them.

I started my own career conducting environmental investigations and epidemiological studies, and working closely with county and city health officials. These officials are on the front lines of environmental health and our communities depend upon them. Providing support by linking them to the data, tools, and innovative solutions mentioned above is one of my top priorities as EPA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for our Office of Research and Development.

That will take a continued commitment to communications and translation of our science to action, all part of keeping the critical link between a healthy environment and healthy people at the forefront of our thinking. Sharing our work with public health professionals is one way we can work together to make every day Earth Day. And that’s something we can all celebrate.

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator Tom Burke

 

About the Author: Thomas Burke, Ph.D. is the Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Research and Development as well as EPA’s Science Advisor. Prior to coming to EPA, he served as the Jacob I. and Irene B. Fabrikant Professor and Chair in Health, Risk and Society and the Associate Dean for Public Health Practice and Training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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