United for One Health

November 02, 2021 | Andrew Tucker

angel-oak-tree-panorama.jpgNov. 3, 2021, marks the sixth annual One Health Day, a global campaign to recognize and embrace how public health is connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.

According to the One Health Commission, the goal of One Health Day is “…to build the cultural will necessary for a sea change in how planetary health challenges are assessed and addressed and how professionals exchange information across disciplines.”

Exchanging information across disciplines is also the goal of an ongoing partnership uniting the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Through cooperative agreements and a memorandum of agreement, the three organizations work together to advance shared priorities, including public health, water and air quality, children’s environmental health, resilience to pollutants, and responding to unfolding threats such as COVID-19 and contaminants of immediate and emerging concern such as Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAs).

One Health offers a powerful, unifying concept to guide our combined efforts to protect and improve public health. To move this concept into action, EPA is hosting a webinar today entitled, “One Health Environmental Perspective.”

ASTHO had the opportunity to pose some questions about One Health to EPA’s Wayne E. Cascio, MD, who serves as the Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research and Development.

Below are the questions and what we learned from Cascio.

What is One Health from EPA’s Perspective?

EPA has long recognized that clean air and water, uncontaminated land, and functioning ecosystems are critical for protecting public health. From an Agency perspective, the One Health approach acknowledges the intricate, crucial, and very much interdependent connections between all those elements—and can be a powerful guide for advancing our mission to safeguard the environment and protect public health.

I’ve seen a few different explanations, but the one that I think embraces the goals of our partnership with ASTHO and ECOS comes from our sister agency the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “One Health is the idea that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.”

What is EPA doing in the One Health arena?

In many ways, the concept of One Health fits everything we do: working toward a cleaner, healthier environment as a foundation for advancing public health.

Can you give us a few specific examples of EPA work related to One Health?

We have already developed a number of important tools and other resources that help users link the quality of the environment to public health. Perhaps our most widely known is EPA’s EnviroAtlas. EnviroAtlas provides geospatial data, easy-to-use tools, and other resources related to ecosystem services, their chemical and non-chemical stressors, and human health. It combines a wealth of large databases—including ecosystems, remote sensing, human health outcomes, and environmental monitoring—into a mapping and visualization tool that has been used by decision makers, researchers, educators, and others to better understand the complex relationships between people, other living things, and our environment.

Innovative studies in our children’s environmental health research portfolio are using a “total environment framework” to explore the interrelationships between chemical and non-chemical stressors from the built, natural, and social environments.

And just one more example of many I could cite is our ecosystem research. We have a robust ecosystem services research portfolio, where our researchers are looking to illuminate the direct connections between healthy, functioning ecosystems and the benefit they provide to people. The program has made important contributions to support tools to inform local decision making, reducing health risks from vector-borne diseases, and advance the cleanup and rehabilitation of contaminated lands.

What is the Agency’s One Health vision going forward?

So far, much of what I have mentioned has been a natural extension of our work and not specifically developed with the “One Health” concept in mind.

So today marks an important milestone as we start to fully embrace the concept in ways that leverage existing partnerships with our colleagues in the states and public health organizations. These partnerships break down the traditional barriers between professional disciplines—say between biologists, epidemiologists, doctors, educators, and frontline public health practitioners—so we can all work together seamlessly to target research, share information, and take action to reduce disease and other risks by explicitly considering human health, animals, and the environment together as an interrelated set.

We have so many challenges before us—climate change, environmental justice, the emergence of zoonotic diseases, wildfires and their impact on air and water quality, PFAs and other chemicals of concern—that all the work we can do in partnership and communicate in transparent, efficient ways is a welcome development. One Health is a great opportunity to do that.