During her career at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Ramona Trovato has been a critical transformation agent in the area of environmental health, addressing the effects of pollution on children and helping the agency become better prepared to handle the consequences of biological, chemical and radiological attacks in the post-9/11 era.
Trovato, now the EPA’s associate assistant administrator for research and development and acting in the role of deputy assistant administrator for management, was at the forefront, during the 1990s, of pressing the government conduct research and set environmental standards that for the first time accounted for the effects of contaminants on children, not just adults.
As a result of her work, children are included in the agency’s policies and procedures for assessing risk and exposure—that is, how much one eats, drinks and breathes—since they take in more food, drink and air in relation to their body weight than adults. And EPA works closely with schools, through voluntary programs, to make the facilities healthier for children.
“She has changed how the agency thinks about its responsibility to protect public health,” said former EPA Administrator Carol Browner. “Specifically, the agency should focus on protecting the most vulnerable groups of people.”
Under her leadership, EPA designed and developed the children’s health program that centered on the environmental causes of childhood diseases such as asthma, cancer and developmental disabilities. For example, EPA worked with the Department of Housing and Urban Development to reduce children’s exposure to lead in public housing as one of many initiatives.
As part of this effort, she worked with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish the first eight Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Prevention Research Centers that are dedicated to investigating how to lessen children’s health risks from environmental factors.
In addition, 10 pediatric environmental health centers—staffed with health care providers who focus on environmental health—were set up in leading academic medical centers to draw the combined expertise of pediatric and occupational environmental medicine. Recognizing the innovative nature of the initial HHS-established centers, Trovato partnered with the department to locate these specialty pediatric health units in in each of the EPA’s 10 regions around the country.
“Ramona’s impact on children’s health was immediate, wide ranging and long lasting,” said Lek Kadeli, acting EPA assistant administrator for research and development. “From the physician’s office to the international community, children’s lives have improved.”
Trovato worked on the EPA’s children’s health initiative for five years. “It felt like the right thing at the right time,” she said. “People came together because of the importance of this issue.”
In a separate health-related area, Trovato played a pivotal role after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in helping the EPA become better prepared to respond to the environmental hazards of such an attack.
Working closely with EPA colleagues, HHS, state environmental agencies and public-health laboratories, Trovato was instrumental in the development of the laboratory network needed to help clean up after such a disaster and determine when people could return to their homes and neighborhoods.
EPA also set up a research center that continues to work with other agencies to develop cost-effective and technologically sound methods of analyzing hazardous agents from dirty bombs or other terrorist acts.
Kadeli said Trovato understood that the EPA was not prepared to deal with these challenges in the post-9/11 era and took immediate actions to rectify the situation.
For the past several years, Trovato has helped steer the EPA’s research and development office, with its more than 1,700 employees in 13 locations around the country. She instituted an era of accountability and transparency, restructuring the EPA’s research and development arm to be more timely and relevant when responding to environmental and public-health challenges. She also fostered the creation of a new management system that tracks the office’s $500 million research portfolio.
Trovato currently is working on a number of critical initiatives, including playing a leadership role in the development of green infrastructure strategies to help city planners and managers address storm-water problems when sewage and other pollutants discharge into nearby waterways.
“Ramona is a model of someone who takes her gifts and her energy and passion and puts it to work for the American people,” said Kadeli.
Browner said Trovato “had vision to see how the agency and its employees needed to change to best achieve their mission…and she had the credibility to bring people along with her.”
Trovato left government in 2004 to work as a consultant, but returned in 2010 because she wanted to have a larger impact and serve the country.
“Government is unique in that it provides both the bully pulpit and the resources to make great change for the benefit of the country,” Trovato said. “If one person has vision and can convince others of its value, it’s possible to make change.”