By Benjamin Place, Assistant Director for Environmental Health, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
President Biden believes every American deserves to drink clean water—free of chemicals and pollutants that harm the health and wellbeing of children, families, and communities. Driven by the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the National Science & Technology Council’s Contaminants of Emerging Concern Strategy Team released a research initiative last year to set a course to detect and assess emerging contaminants in drinking water. Contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) are newly identified or reemerging environmental pollutants that may harm human health or the environment. Some pollutants may cause cancer, heart issues, lung disease, brain damage, and other health concerns. The emerging status of these contaminants makes it hard for scientists to understand precisely how these contaminants pose a threat to humans. These CECs require unique scientific and operational approaches to measure and understand their risk to our communities.
Today, the Strategy Team released a National Emerging Contaminants Research Initiative Implementation Plan to lay out actions to identify, track, and mitigate contaminants in our environment. This Plan takes into account input from subject matter experts from a range of disciplines, including chemistry, environmental science, exposure, toxicology, and risk characterization, to establish concrete steps for a whole-of-government approach. The Plan focuses on short-term and long-term activities across federal agencies in the three categories:
Cross-governmental coordination and action
Federal agencies are more efficient, less duplicative, and more productive when they work together. The activities in this category describe ways for federal agencies to create collaborative environments. This includes activities like cooperative environmental sampling campaigns, joint solicitation for research grants, and shared user facilities, to enhance understanding of CECs.
Knowledge management and data sharing
Each agency has its own experts, programs, and research priorities that produce valuable information regarding the identity, toxic effects, and exposure to newly discovered CECs. Activities in this category provide opportunities for establishing robust, first-of-its-kind data-sharing practices and tools for CEC information. Sharing data and knowledge among agencies can, ultimately, advance our Nation’s understanding of CECs: potential exposures can be more readily identified; toxicological research can be expedited; risk assessments can be more thorough; and mitigation technologies can be efficiently developed.
Community engagement and communication
This plan includes activities that will assist with the development of communication strategies, creation of a web presence for sharing CEC information, and incorporating community engagement in the decision-making process regarding CECs. Importantly, the Plan weaves environmental justice considerations into every step.
This Implementation Plan is a component to achieving President Biden’s vision for clean and plentiful drinking water for every person in our nation.
For more information on the Implementation Plan or other work of the NSTC Joint Subcommittee on Environment, Innovation, and Public Health (JEEP), contact JEEP@ostp.eop.gov.