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What is the P2 trend all about, and how are environmental health professionals involved?

Beginning in the 1970's, the movement toward protection of the nation's air, land, and water resources became a high priority for Congress. Congress determined that the states and local government had neither the technical capability, nor the political will, to regulate business activities that degraded the environment and presented increased risk to the public's health. The result was "command and control" laws, regulations, and policies that set clear standards for the regulated community and were enforced with vigor by federal and state agencies. The regulatory approach was to regulate by medium (air, land, water) and establish standards for the presence of individual chemicals released into the environment by industry. The results were dramatic, as measured by continuing improvement in air and water resources. The technology of toxic disposal also developed to prevent a new generation of disposal facilities that might present a future risk comparable to the legacy of sites addressed by laws such as Superfund.

Beginning in the 90's, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) re-evaluated its strategy and considered a much broader approach to environmental protection. Efforts such as the 33/50 program, Project XL, and more recently, the Design for the Environment pollution prevention program have had a community-based focus. It is the intent of these programs to encourage regulated businesses to go beyond compliance and to broaden their roles in community protection. Participation in these voluntary programs has the added benefit of gaining credibility as a responsible community member for participating companies. Aside from the improved protection of public health and the environment that pollution prevention (P2) brings, companies have also recognized its potential for significant economic benefits by avoiding the need for treatment at the end-of-the-pipe.

As we approach the turn of the century, the protection of public health and the environment from the effects of toxic emissions is continuing to evolve. The concept of P2 has grown from an innovative idea for reducing toxins, to the foundation for a new policy direction. Colorado and other states have formally adopted legislative policies that establish P2 as the management tool of first choice in reducing the emission of toxic substances into the environment. This represents a formal change in focus from the end-of-the-pipe to the manufacturing process as the preferred point to control emissions. Environmental health professionals should be aware of this trend, and should know that having an understanding of P2 practices is as relevant to their work today as knowing environmental laws and regulations during the 70's and 80's. There are also more potential benefits from P2 than just reducing the use and disposal of toxic chemicals. P2 concepts also have the potential to establish a new standard for community-based environmental protection by encouraging businesses to demonstrate that they are leaders committed to protecting the community. The regulatory landscape has already shown signs of change in allowing businesses to demonstrate leadership in the community, resulting in reduced regulatory oversight. The concept of P2 is the basis for this new direction in environmental protection.

To encourage implementation of P2, the EPA has provided funding to the states, local government agencies, and academic institutions to develop and implement P2 programs. Those programs include providing technical assistance to businesses, developing and disseminating educational information to regulated businesses and citizens, and promoting P2 as an alternative to command and control regulation. Businesses have found that having a P2 policy reduces their regulatory burdens and often improves their economic bottom lines. Regulatory agencies are able to function as consultants rather than enforcers to work with businesses that have voluntarily embraced P2. This new relationship has encouraged businesses to be more responsive to regulatory compliance with the knowledge that openness and cooperation may help avoid the big regulatory hammer.

The challenges currently facing environmental health professionals are 1) how to institutionalize P2 as a standard business practice, and 2) how to get businesses and communities to see that P2 can be a pathway to a new partnership between them. Through inspections and other regulatory activities, environmental health professionals have the unique opportunity to work one-on-one with regulated businesses, to provide training, and to help identify peers who have benefited from P2 technologies; they also can provide support for the concept. In addition, environmental health professionals who work in academia or in the private sector have opportunities to sell P2 to the next generation of the workforce, and to business leaders looking for ways to improve productivity and reduce their regulatory burdens. Environmental health professionals in communities are available to address immediate health and environmental concerns, take a multi-media approach to P2, and identify those who can play a key role in P2 programs (e.g., regulatory agencies, business and economic development organizations, universities and the community itself). They also can play a key role in raising awareness in communities about P2.

The Journal of Environmental Health (Journal) will also become a useful source of information about the current trends in P2. Beginning with this issue, and continuing at least through the September 1997 issue, the Partnership for Environmental Technology Education (PETE) will present material from the U.S. EPA's Design for the Environment P2 program. PETE consists of over 400 community and technical colleges, multiple businesses, industry, and government agencies. With funding from the U.S. EPA and other public and private entities, PETE has developed a comprehensive program to develop and disseminate P2 information to a variety of audiences, including environmental health professionals. The Journal will provide practical information that can help provide the tools for readers to become advocates for P2.

The P2 evolution continues at the intersection of environmental protection and public health. P2 adds a new dimension to the tool box of techniques to assure the control of toxic substances in the environment. Environmental health specialists must be prepared to use tools such as P2 in order to provide the community with the best that technology has to offer for public health and environmental protection.

Stay tuned as the P2 story continues to unfold through the Journal. Also, take the opportunity to share, through this column, practical experiences of how P2 is being implemented in your businesses or communities. We look forward to hearing from you.
COPYRIGHT 1997 National Environmental Health Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:EPA pollution prevention program
Author:Wiant, Chris J.
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Article Type:Column
Date:May 1, 1997
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