Partnerships for Environmental Health Challenges Show the Way Forward

April 28, 2021 | Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta

Last month, I had the pleasure of joining ASTHO’s Vice President for health security, Meredith Allen, EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and the president of the Environmental Council of States (ECOS) Patrick McDonnell at the ECOS Spring Meeting. The event marked the start of a strong state-federal relationship under the new EPA leadership, highlighted by the extension of a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) reaffirming a partnership between our three organizations to advance cooperative initiatives in pursuit of environmental health.

During his keynote address, Administrator Regan said, “this agreement will help ensure that we remain closely coordinated in supporting our underserved communities, protecting Americans from environmental hazard and harm, and developing solutions to our most pressing challenges. The partnership we reaffirm today serves a model for how to get things done.”

Under the agreement, which will last for five years, the agency will work with ASTHO and ECOS to help develop tools, reports, workshops, meeting communications, and other initiatives that will help protect public health from environmental threats.

During the past five years, the MOA has served as a catalyst for EPA to work directly with environmental health experts in the states to address environmental health challenges.

As the head of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, it’s been particularly gratifying to see how the partnerships we have cultivated have had real and lasting impact, helping our state partners address a host of issues, including PFAS, harmful algal blooms, wildfire smoke, and most recently COVID-19.

Research is at the heart of everything EPA does, and now we have a model federal-state partnership to show how open communication and collaboration play critical roles in the research planning and implementation process—ensuring the results of our science and engineering efforts are useful and practical to those working at the intersections of the environment and public health. EPA will continue to work directly with the states and territories to conduct research where it is most needed, and to share the results, science-based tools, and methods we develop through our tools/resources and training webinars, bimonthly PFAS science calls, and other forums.

The 2021 ECOS Spring Meeting was one of the first public appearances for our incoming Administrator, marking both an exciting beginning for our new EPA leadership and a continuation of the good work ASTHO, ECOS, and EPA have been doing together over the past several years.

The meeting reminded me of how much has changed since last year’s planned gathering, when we were all first scrambling to continue our work in the face of the emerging COVID-19 pandemic. While both meetings were held virtually, this year’s event felt almost routine, seamlessly uniting our three organizations and attendees from our homes and other remote locations across the states and territories.

Even from my computer screen, I could feel the sense of anticipation we all share with new leadership, a renewed commitment to working together, and the promise of science.

Whether it’s the development and delivery of the vaccines that have just begun to lead us out of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the technologies and environmental assessment tools we need to meet the other public health challenges we face, we have laid the foundation for the collaboration and partnership we need for a healthier, more sustainable, and more just future.

That future will soon include celebrating with our ASTHO and ECOS partners in person, where we can shake hands, enjoy one another’s unmasked smiles, and reaffirm our commitment to partnership, collaboration, and transparency. Thanks to public health science and partnership, that future looks a lot closer than it did a year ago.