Protecting the Environment and Public Health: The Critical Role of Local Environmental Health and the Power of Partnerships

By Tom Burke, PhD, MPH

NEHA Executive Director David T. Dyjack and Tom Burke shake hands after signing the MOU

NEHA Executive Director David T. Dyjack and Tom Burke shake hands after signing the MOU.

As a former state environmental official and Deputy Health Commissioner, I know firsthand the important role that state and local government play in ensuring a clean environment and protecting public health. From safe water and air to cleaning up waste sites and beyond, environmental health practitioners at the local level are integral to keeping communities safe and healthy.

We as a nation have made tremendous progress in environmental protection over the past several decades. However, today’s environmental challenges – like climate change, air and water quality, and the built environment – are increasingly complex and can impact public health in numerous ways. To address them, we need to work together, and to do that, we need strong partnerships.

Today, I had the honor of signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), a 5,000 member organization representing local environmental health practitioners and dedicated to advancing the environmental health and protection professional for the purpose of providing a healthful environment for all.

Through the MOU, NEHA and EPA’s Office of Research and Development will work together on issues that are important to us both – like making sure we have the science and tools needed to address today’s challenges. From partnering on webinars on topics like small drinking water systems to working together on educational materials and delivering critical science information and tools to those who need them, this partnership will strengthen ties between EPA and local environmental health practitioners. Importantly, this MOU will help connect us here at EPA with local environmental health professionals across the Nation who have boots-on-the-ground knowledge about the environmental health issues communities are facing.

The role of local environmental health has always been important, but it’s becoming more critical as the challenges we face become increasingly complex. This partnership will open the door for collaborations that will help us better understand and address these 21st century environmental challenges and strengthen public health protection now and 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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