From Sri Lanka to EPA

By Mathy Stanislaus

I was born in Sri Lanka. My family moved to the United States when I was five in order to build a better life. As an Asian American, I take special pride in celebrating Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage month. I am now privileged to serve as EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

The path that took me to my current position began with my work seeking to improve human rights in Sri Lanka. From there, I became engaged in environmental protection by working with communities who suffer from disproportionate levels of pollution and environmental harm. Since I began at EPA, it’s been one of my top priorities to make sure that communities have full access to information and are involved in the decision-making process. It’s especially important to me that we reach communities who have historically not had their voices heard.

With the recent passing of the one year anniversary of the BP Oil Spill, it’s a good time to look back at EPA’s efforts during that time. I’m very proud of EPA’s work to make sure that our outreach and engagement efforts paid special attention to the Asian American fishing communities who were severely affected by the spill. When the spill happened, I spent several weeks in the Gulf talking to members of the affected communities; I wanted to make sure that EPA’s actions addressed their concerns. EPA conducted targeted outreach to organizations serving the Asian American communities and other communities in the Gulf. EPA’s work supporting these communities included providing translation services and creating a formal unit in the Unified Incident Command (UIC) to reach out to non-governmental organizations. This unit was the first group of its type in UIC history.

As a member of the Interagency Working Group for the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, I have worked to draw attention to the unique issues of AAPI communities. EPA has committed to ensuring that Asian American and Pacific Islanders enjoy full opportunities in the workforce, partnering with AAPI universities, and addressing the concerns of AAPI communities. For example, many AAPI women who work in nail salons are exposed to chemicals. EPA is working to reduce this exposure by providing education, training, and by examining alternatives to chemicals used in the nail salon industry. By working with AAPI communities and listening to their concerns, EPA can help these Americans achieve a better standard of living.

About the author: Mathy Stanislaus is Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response.

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