This story originally ran in NACCHO’s Essential Elements blog.
The first month of 2017 marked the beginning of a very exciting and timely collaboration, between NACCHO and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Dr. Thomas Burke, EPA Senior Advisor and Deputy Assistant Director for the Office of Research and Development, hosted NACCHO leadership at the agency’s Washington, D.C.-based headquarters to sign on to a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU), committing to join EPA efforts to advance environmental health, particularly with a focus on local communities and public health.
Now that the ink has officially dried, NACCHO hopes this MOU will substantially further current efforts in environmental science, policy and practice, through cross-pollination of expertise brought by each organization. Ultimately, the aim is that these efforts will contribute to better mechanisms and processes and reduce harmful health factors, while protecting vulnerable assets faster and more efficiently.
For NACCHO, Jennifer Li, Senior Director for Environmental Health and Disability (pictured above in the center), played a pivotal role in developing and finalizing this partnership. Yet, for Li, this is also a story of coming full circle, who first met Dr. Burke when she was his student, pursuing her Masters at Johns Hopkins University and just beginning her career in public health. Li strongly believes that bringing together the unique functions of the EPA and NACCHO creates potential for greater advancement to generate actionable results and improve the lives of all Americans.
“Without the EPA’s innovative research, many of today’s critical breakthroughs related to environmental factors, particularly those impacting public health, would not be possible,” says Li. “However, at the federal level, it can sometimes be difficult to connect scientific findings to their direct impact on local population health. NACCHO can bridge this gap by accessing our vast network of 2,800 local health departments across the nation, and providing them with the necessary training, tools, and support to ensure practical application of EPA resources, resulting in healthier communities.”
In his own blog post announcing the MOU, Burke reiterates Li’s sentiments, and emphasizes the importance of creating opportunities to collaborate across diverse sectors.
“Working together, we can focus on issues that we all care about, like promoting health and equity, improving the quality and length of all lives, and creating a safe and healthy environment,” Burke said.
NACCHO and the EPA plan to meet again soon and begin developing a strategy translating this newly cemented partnership into actionable steps. Li and other senior NACCHO staff are in the process of scheduling regular communication with EPA officials to establish continuous discussion on how to best combine their expertise, resources, and networks to bolster current and future environmental health initiatives.