The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Ponce School of Medicine and Health Services, or PSMHS, signed an ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ Monday to promote environmental and public health protection in Puerto Rico.
The five-year agreement aims to bring qualified students into the EPA workforce and provide Puerto Rico with a new generation of environmental leaders with medical expertise, the EPA said in a statement.
The EPA and the Ponce School of Medicine and Health Services will team up to exchange advice and technical assistance between medical professionals at the school and EPA experts. They will also: hold on-campus and electronic career fairs focused on public service careers; find opportunities for EPA internships for PSMHS students; educate faculty and students about critical environmental issues such as waste management, emergency planning and response and hazardous waste cleanups; and develop an on-campus speakers’ program, mini-courses and lectures.
Furthermore, the PSMHS will so establish new environmental sustainability practices on campus. This program will include: water conservation; renewable energy; energy efficiency; waste reduction; recycling and composting; food donation; and the use of nontoxic cleaning products, grounds management and pest control products.
Martín Peña Channel to benefit
In addition, the PSMHS has undertaken a study to assess the connections between health concerns and environmental conditions in the community along the Martín Peña Channel in San Juan.
The EPA has been engaged in a project to improve environmental and public health conditions in the Martín Peña community, as air pollution from factories and power plants can trigger asthma attacks, cause respiratory problems and increase the risk of cancer. Puerto Rico has the highest asthma rate in the nation.
“Puerto Rico has unique natural beauty. Unfortunately, the beauty of Puerto Rico’s natural resources masks a range of environmental problems that have real effects on people’s health, particularly water pollution and air pollution,” said EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck. “It will take a sustained collaboration of experts in the fields of environmental science and medicine to tackle the complex environmental and public health problems facing Puerto Rico. This agreement encourages students at the Ponce School to take on these challenges.”
The PSMHS has begun a study to connect environmental and health impacts in the underserved community along the Martín Peña Canal. Throughout the course of the study, data will be collected on gastrointestinal diseases associated with exposure to wastewater.
Factors such as flooding, sewer overflows and other wastewater related events will be taken into consideration. The study will provide evidence of health impacts on the residents of Martín Peña that may be resulting from exposure to sewage.
“The PSMHS is excited about this opportunity to partner with EPA. This agreement will make environmental health issues ‘real’ to students as they pursue their academic Masters in Public Health program” said School President Joxel García. “Students not only learn how to improve the health of Puerto Ricans and work with the EPA, they will also be better prepared public health professionals of the quality EPA needs for future ensuring of improved environmental health in Puerto Rico.”