Older Americans Month Recognition of Roy Popkin, an EPA SEE Enrollee
EPA’s Aging Initiative is working with health, aging and environmental organizations as well as other Federal, state and local agencies to promote public awareness about the effect of environmental hazards on the health of older persons, and encourages older persons to work to reduce environmental hazards in communities. We are fortunate to have some remarkable individuals here at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who have cleared the path for other older adults to become more involved in working on environmental issues. The Senior Environmental Employment (SEE) Program, created by Federal law in 1984 and administered by EPA, provides an opportunity for retired and unemployed older persons age 55 and older to share their expertise with EPA. The SEE program provides older persons from national aging organizations with an opportunity to remain active using their lifelong, diverse skills to support a wide variety of environmental programs.
While there are many exceptional SEE workers at EPA, including several that directly support the work of the Aging Initiative, a particularly extraordinary participant is Roy Popkin. Roy is a writer in EPA’s Office of Public Affairs. Prior to coming to EPA, Roy served as Deputy National Director of Disaster Services for the American Red Cross. His experiences with the Red Cross have continued to give him a unique perspective that is particularly helpful as EPA works to protect the health of older adults and other susceptible populations. While exploring Roy’s colorful history, the Aging Initiative staff located an excerpt from the American Red Cross Oral History Collection which commemorated the Bay of Pigs Prisoner Exchange from Cuba in 1962 in which Roy was involved. In the article, Roy recalls a grateful refugee quizzing him on why he was helping her that day, and how surprised he was at her question. At the time, Roy thought "he was just doing his job" but admits how much that single event taught him about freedom. Today, Roy is still doing his job, and we are benefitting every day from his tremendous expertise.
Roy wrote for the EPA Journal many years ago. Reading his many contributions to the Journal is like reading a historical documentary about the progress that the EPA has made to preserve the environment and protect human health. In a 1984 EPA Journal article "Do Environmental Disasters Have a Good Side?" Roy describes the cause and effect relationship between natural disasters and the progress that has often followed. Roy talks about significant changes that have occurred in our nation’s policies in the aftermath of tragic disasters like the 1964 earthquake in Alaska that institutionalized the federal role in disaster relief; great floods that resulted in flood-related aid laws, the lethal smog that killed many in Donora, Pennsylvania in 1948 and similar incidents which resulted in the loss of many lives in New York City in 1953 and 1962 that led to the passage of the Clean Air Act in 1963, landmark legislation that authorized federal involvement in air pollution control efforts. In conducting research for the previously mentioned National Journal article, Roy learned about the thick smog that settled over Manhattan one day in November 1966 which cast a grey pallor over the Macy’s Annual Thanksgiving Day Parade. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed the Air Quality Act amendments to the Clean Air Act which further strengthened the government’s role in combating air pollution. Much environmental progress has been made in our country over the past four decades, and each day at EPA and throughout the nation, remarkable individuals like Roy Popkin continue to provide us with the institutional knowledge and insight we need to continue to move forward to protect the environment and our health for generations to come.
The Aging Initiative is EPA’s first comprehensive effort to identify research gaps in environmental health and older adults, translate research findings into preventative actions and to highlight the important contributions that older persons make to protect environmental health in communities across America. During May, which is Older Americans Month, we salute EPA’s SEE enrollees including Roy Popkin and his wife Mary. Mary is another outstanding SEE enrollee working on outreach in the EPA Office of Public Affairs and assisting with the Aging Initiative on a daily basis. We extend to them our appreciation for what they do each and every day.