At the Intersection of Human Health and Environmental Protection

A community’s health, safety, and productiveness is dependent on the protection of its environment. This intersection, between environmental stewardship and community growth, is one of the most important aspects of the work we do every day at EPA. That’s why one of Administrator McCarthy’s key themes is making a visible difference in communities across the country. However, it’s not just cities and towns here in the U.S. that benefit from environmental protection. Worldwide, our homes are safer, our children are healthier, and our economies are stronger when we invest in environmental stewardship.

During my time at EPA, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the impact of environmental protection in communities worldwide. When I traveled to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, I saw firsthand the environmental challenges that communities were facing in Africa and other parts of the world.

Visit to local community in Addis Ababa to learn about challenges with indoor cooking and cookstoves

Visit to local community in Addis Ababa to learn about challenges with indoor cooking and cookstoves

Most notable among the problems we witnessed in Ethiopia was the presence of traditional cookstoves within homes. Exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves and open fires, which are the primary means of cooking and heating for nearly three billion people in the developing world, causes 4 millions of premature deaths annually, with women and young children the most affected. According to WHO estimates, exposure to smoke from traditional cookstoves accounts as one of the top five worst overall health risk factors in developing countries.

On the ground with us in Ethiopia were Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs), whose work throughout the world is vital to furthering EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment. The PCVs we met had been trained to identify and speak to the risks posed by traditional cookstoves, and were able to disseminate this information, letting local citizens know about the environmental, health, and economic benefits of clean cookstoves. For example, for a woman with young children, replacing a traditional cookstove with a cleaner stove reduces their risk of acquiring a potentially life threatening respiratory disease. For another woman we met, the more modern stove enables her to sell vegetables instead of gathering firewood.

Demonstration of cookstove use in local community in Addis Ababa

Demonstration of cookstove use in local community in Addis Ababa

EPA and Peace Corps’ partnership doesn’t just stop at cookstoves. EPA and Peace Corps launched a Memorandum of Understanding in December 2010 to strengthen institutional ties between the two agencies and to further cooperation in international projects in support of broad environmental program initiatives.

EPA experts have teamed up with Peace Corps on a wide range of issues, from Climate Change, to drinking water safety, to public participation. Through EPA, PCVs have attended trainings and workshops in Kenya, Uganda, and Morocco,, and have taken the lessons learned back to the communities where they serve. And an employee in EPA’s Office of Water is even serving with Peace Corps Response on a water project in Mexico for a year.

Today, in celebration of World Environment Day and to commemorate the partnership between EPA and the Peace Corps, on EPA’s blog forum, “It’s Our Environment”, we’ll be featuring blog posts by current PCVs, as well as returned Peace Corps volunteers, some of whom, I’m proud to say, work at EPA, and have formed the group, RPCVs @ EPA (In fact, there are over 300 returned Peace Corps volunteers currently working at EPA!) These posts will feature stories about the intersection of culture and environment, and will highlight the need to view community health holistically.

I hope you will join me in celebrating World Environment Day, and looking at some of the exciting posts by returned and current Peace Corps volunteers who are truly making a difference for communities at home and abroad.

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