AS-EPA Participated in the 2020 Pacific Islands Environment Directors’ Meeting Through Virtual Platform

The 2020 Pacific Islands Environment Directors’ Meeting which is generally held around this time of the year in San Francisco, California at the US EPA Region 9 headquarter has now gone virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency (AS-EPA) was able to participate in the meeting using its Video Tele-Conferencing capability from the office in Utulei. The meeting was virtually attended by staff of US EPA Region 9, Guam EPA, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the Freely Associated States. The meeting was held over three days from August 3 – 5, 2020 with a three hour per day schedule.

AS-EPA was represented by Director Fa’amao Asalele Jr. and Deputy Director William Sili along with staff members from various technical programs within AS-EPA. The US EPA Region 9 Administrator Mr. John W. Busterud officially addressed the Pacific Islands Directors’ Meeting with his opening remarks before turning it over to his Pacific Islands Office staff to mediate the various sessions of the meeting.

Numerous topics were discussed during the meeting, such as Superfund Response and Technical Assistance to the Pacific Islands whereby US EPA Region 9 sends over a team of chemical/hazardous materials specialists to conduct chemical removal projects in American Samoa as well as other Pacific Islands. In the past, AS-EPA received Technical Assistance from US EPA Region 9 to conduct chemical removal projects for our high schools’ laboratory chemicals; ASCC Laboratory; Department of Agriculture pesticides and other local entities with chemicals that needed to be disposed of properly in order to protect public health and the environment. Other topics discussed in the meeting were Pesticide Residue Testing, Environmental Justice in the Pacific Islands, Grants Management, Leadership/Mentoring, Technical Assistance for the Freely Associated States and PFAS in the Pacific Islands.

Director Asalele stated that, “with the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic and the subsequent restrictions that come with it, having a dependable Video Tele-Conference capability has become the new normalcy in this day and age when communicating with the outside world. We have to make sure that despite the limitations we are facing with the pandemic, work must still continue because the mission of protecting public health and the environment is critical.”

The virtual meeting was well attended by all Pacific Islands jurisdictions and meaningful discussions took place on various environmental issues that were raised along with the planning of the upcoming 2021 Pacific Islands Environment Conference (PIEC) that is scheduled to be hosted by Palau. It is unclear at this point with the current restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic if a “face to face” PIEC would take place, but the members agreed that more frequent dialogue through virtual platform is needed to keep the discussions on this matter and other environmental issues moving forward.

Director Asalele would like to express his sincerest appreciation to Regional Administrator Busterud for his continued support of AS-EPA programs and his commitment to the Pacific Islands environmental programs. I would also like to thank my staff for their hard work and dedication to their duties because, they are the catalyst that keeps our agency at the forefront of protecting public health and our precious environment for future generations to come.”

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