By Keith Zukowski July 29, 2017

As America continues to be consumed by the health care debate, there is one thing everybody can still agree on: We all want to lead happy, healthy lives.

But here’s the secret:  Access to affordable care is not the only thing that keeps us healthy. Thousands of Americans at organizations and agencies nationwide go to work every day to keep people out of the doctor’s office without you even knowing it.

We’d better make sure they can continue to do their job.

Here’s something we wish wasn’t so secret: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t just protect our environment; part of its core mission is to protect our health. Without the EPA – or or even with a weakened EPA – people would get sicker, which translates into more hospital visits, more medical bills and more strain on our economy. That’s healthcare, too.

EPA cuts will “will make people sick”

Our national discussion is currently focused on premiums and deductibles, CBO scores and votes. That’s all critically important.
Another, direct threat to our health that gets a lot less attention are the Trump administration’s proposal to slash nearly one-third of the EPA’s budget, hammering the critical health programs the agency it funds.

To quote former regional EPA administrator Judith Enck: It’s “going to make people sick. It literally will make people sick.”

So while health care is on your mind, let’s consider the ways that your health could be affected by these drastic cuts.

Budget cuts = more unsafe drinking water

Places such as Toledo, Ohio, have already seen what can happen when we don’t properly care for our drinking water.

In the summer of 2014, residents woke to a grim warning: Don’t drink your tap water or use it to wash dishes or to bathe your kids. Lake Erie, the source of Toledo’s drinking water, had been overtaken by a dangerous algae bloom.

State water programs, which rely heavily on funding from the EPA, are responsible for keeping our water clean and preventing episodes like the one in Toledo. The Trump administration’s proposed $482 million cut to traditional state environmental grants could strip away much of that support, stretching already-thin resources needed to keep communities healthy.

Budget cuts = more dirty air

Without proper oversight from local EPA officials, expect some polluters to feel emboldened to send more dirty emissions into our air. That means sicker people, especially children and the elderly.

Incidents of asthma would likely go up. So, too, would other pulmonary and cardiac diseases. What’s worse, it will disproportionately affect people of color and low-income communities.

It’s fair to say that people would die.

How the EPA saves lives

To put it all in perspective, the laws the agency enforces:

  • save 230,000- lives each year through EPA’s implementation of the Clean Air Act between 1990 and 2020.
  • prevent 2.4 million asthma attacks prevented through the Clean Air Act 1990-2020.
  • resulted in 1,308 enforcement actions taken in 2016 under the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts.
  • safely disposed of 62 billion pounds of hazardous waste in 2016 through EPA enforcement actions that required companies to treat, minimize and properly manage such waste.

The EPA is health care. It is our silent guardian working every day to ensure that we breathe cleaner air, drink purer water and allow us to live our lives to the fullest.

The next months will be filled with discussion over what policies make for the best health care. Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: We are all made healthier by the work of the EPA.

That work should be protected and funded. Lives depend on it.