Healthy Environments: A Shared Goal for Healthy Communities

By Tom Burke, PhD, MPH

From the earliest days of public health, a clean, healthy and safe environment has been central to ensuring healthy people and communities. Protecting public health is a core part of EPA’s mission, and it is a goal we share with many others, such as the American Public Health Association (APHA).

Tom burke and Georges Benjamin shaking hands with the signed MOU between them

Dr. Tom Burke and Dr. Georges Benjamin shake hands after signing the MOU.

Today, at the 2016 APHA Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado, APHA Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) and APHA.

This partnership will open the door for collaborations that will help strengthen public health protection. From safe drinking water and clean air to healthy places to live, work and play, EPA and APHA are committed to ensuring these basic rights that are so essential to public health. We also share a goal of making sure that science provides the foundation for public health decisions and that public health information is accessible and in the hands of those who need it.

We have made tremendous progress since EPA was established more than 40 years ago. Air pollution is no longer visible in the U.S. and our rivers are no longer on fire. The environmental issues we face today, however, are especially challenging. Climate change, for example, impacts everything from air quality to water resources, agriculture, the built environment, and public health stressors such as temperature and vector-borne diseases. Land use decisions can impact air, land, and water quality, which can ultimately impact public health, and they can influence the social determinants of health – things like social interactions and access to green space. Water quality remains an important issue, with challenges like emerging chemical contaminants, harmful algal blooms, and an aging water system infrastructure.

To succeed in addressing these 21st century challenges, we need strong partners like APHA who share our goals and can get the relevant science and tools into the hands of public health decision makers across the U.S.

EPA and APHA are certainly not strangers, and the environment has long been recognized as a key component of public health. However, this MOU reinforces our shared goals, renews our commitment to achieving a healthy, clean and safe environment for all Americans, and builds a bridge to begin strong collaborations to guide public health protection into the future.

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 prior to 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.

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