My Journey from Peace Corps to Minamata

By Marianne Bailey

Every day at EPA, I have the privilege of working with our staff to advance public health and environmental protection through international cooperation. As a high school student in the 1970s, I knew that diplomacy in some form was my path. As it turns out, diplomacy comes in many guises, and the kind we do at EPA is the most fulfilling kind I could have imagined.

After getting some work experience under my belt after college, I got an MPA degree then joined the Peace Corps in Mali, where I worked on agroforesty and nutrition. After that, EPA became my home. I worked on our Asia and Africa programs early in my EPA career. EPA’s expertise is unrivalled in the world, and is in big demand.

Working in close cooperation with our program and regional offices, and with strong management involvement, we achieved a very rapid phase out of leaded gasoline in China and many other countries in both regions, started air monitoring programs, and advanced environmental health initiatives such as the Chemical Information Exchange Network.

More recently, I was proud to have been involved in negotiating the Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Convention requires all countries to meet the same obligations to reduce the globally circulating emissions which impact the food Americans consume.

The Convention even addresses an informal sector, artisanal and small-scale gold mining, which has emerged as the largest source of global mercury emissions. It addresses that sector in a way that respects miners and their families, and should allow them to continue this important income-generating activity without facing the severe health impacts caused by inhaling mercury when the mercury-gold amalgam is burned to make pure gold.

And now, I am so proud of how our newer staff members have put their intelligence and leadership qualities to work on today’s most pressing challenges. Because what has stuck with me the most about this work over the years is that we can make such a big, positive difference in peoples’ lives through our public service.

My advice to those thinking about public service, including careers in environmental protection, and to those embarking on their careers: be willing and eager to take on new challenges, to stretch, to reach for something that might seem unachievable at first look. Look again – there is no challenge too big for your vision!

About the author: Marianne Bailey is the Deputy Director for Global Affairs and Policy at the US Environmental Protection Agency, which works on a wide range of global environmental issues. Marianne has worked on global mercury issues for over a decade and was the US negotiator for the Minamata Convention’s ASGM provisions. She has previously managed US EPA’s bilateral efforts in Africa and Asia; served as a US Peace Corps agroforestry volunteer in Mali; and worked for the US House of Representatives.

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