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EPA Works with States, Tribes, and Communities to Protect Public Health and the Environment

Published September 1, 2020

Throughout its history, EPA has collaborated with external parties to address high priority environmental and public health challenges. As one of the world’s leading environmental and human health research organizations, EPA provides scientific and technical support to various groups, including states and tribes. These collaborative efforts have improved EPA’s ability to fulfill its mission across the country.    

Working with States to Address Environmental Problems

Today, some of EPA’s most critical partnership are with states. State agencies have an on-the-ground perspective of environmental problems impacting communities, which can help inform EPA of local-level challenges, such as reducing the risk of exposure to chemicals; cleaning up contaminated sites in ways that help revitalize local communities; protecting drinking water; keeping the air clean; and responding to biological, chemical, or radiological events.

Chemicals. Using new approach methods, EPA scientists are collaborating with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to prioritize chemicals for more in-depth evaluation and to inform risk assessments for some contaminants that are of emerging concern. The MDH approached EPA to pursue a collaboration using New Approach Methodologies (NAMs) in their contaminants of emerging concern program.  As part of this collaboration, EPA and MDH have been working to automate key parts of MDH’s exposure screening process in order to save time in evaluating risk of chemical exposure to locals.     

Emergency Response. EPA has had a long-standing partnership with New York City (NYC). As a large and complex metropolitan area, New York City (NYC) has been an ideal partner for EPA to collaborate on emergency response tools and resources that may also be applicable to other major cities. This integral relationship has supported the transition of vital questions during national times of crisis, such as the Ebola virus outbreak in 2014 and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In 2017, EPA participated in the national-level exercise, Gotham Shield, which simulated a response to the threat of an Improvised Nuclear Device in NYC. The State of New York and NYC personnel were able to practice their response to a nuclear threat using EPA developed tools and advance coordination efforts with national partners.  

Air Quality. EPA has partnered with multiple organizations to improve air quality tools and methods and help address air pollution problems unique to several states. In 2018, EPA scientists used advanced air quality monitoring tools as part of the Long Island Sound Tropospheric Ozone Study (LISTOS) to determine the causes of ground-level ozone formation and transport along the Long Island Sound shorelines, including parts of Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and New York. The study was conducted in collaboration with scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), University of Maryland, SUNY-Albany, SUNY-Stony Brook, City College of New York and Yale University. Study results are providing a greater understanding of ground-level ozone formation and transport to assist state air quality managers in controlling ozone and the pollutants that form ozone.  

Drinking Water. EPA also collaborates with states to protect water resources. EPA partners with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators to hold an annual drinking water workshop that provides state personnel with information and training on strategies for handling small drinking water system challenges. The 2020 workshop will provide this opportunity through virtual networking and training. EPA also holds a free monthly small systems webinar series to provide states with information and resources needed throughout the year to communicate the latest scientific advancements and current guidance to their systems. These forums provide EPA with invaluable information from the states on challenges they are currently encountering in their interactions with small systems.

In another partnership, EPA researchers are working with state agencies to develop a tool to protect groundwater resources from perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). The research will investigate soil and groundwater properties, such as mineralogy and pH, to better understand the behavior of PFAS and determine key predictive factors that control the movement of these chemicals. The PFAS project is part of the Regional Sustainable and Environmental Sciences program, which matches Agency scientific and technical expertise with high-priority, short-term research needs in each of the Agency’s ten Regions. 

Working with Tribes

In addition to working with states, EPA has partnered consistently with tribes to protect human health and the environment in Indian Country. One of EPA’s most impactful collaborations includes the National EPA-Tribal Science Council, a forum established in 1999 for interaction between the tribes and EPA to work collaboratively on environmental science issues.  EPA has funded tribal focused efforts  including a project to evaluate the health of the Penobscot River and the health risks of the Penobscot Indian Nation’s traditional practices in a first-of-its-kind Tribal Human Health Risk Assessment. Working closely with the Tribes and other US agencies, ORD and Region 1 scientists analyzed contaminants in the river and completed a first-of-its-kind Tribal Human Health Risk Assessment. In addition, ORD has followed through on its partnership with tribes in meeting their technical and scientific needs with the help of academia, states and regions through the Science to Achieve Results  program and Regional State Tribal Innovation Projects.   These partnerships have helped EPA address the technical and scientific needs of tribes.      

The Key to Successful State Partnerships

The success of these partnerships relies on effective communication and outreach. EPA regularly meets with state environmental and health agencies to hear firsthand from states about their environmental challenges and science needs, share information about available EPA resources, and explore potential collaborations.

EPA’s history of collaboration and partnerships has been an integral component in our efforts to advance scientific research that addresses environmental challenges at the state, tribal, and local levels. Collaborations focusing on environmental issues, such as chemicals, air and water pollution, and emergency response have led to successful research outcomes that help to protect human health and the environment. EPA researchers continue to engage with partners and to seek out new collaborations to focus on some of today’s most urgent environmental challenges.

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