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 views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

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. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.