Commission Releases Expert Panel’s Report on Integration of Environmental and Human Health Data


[Windsor, ON] – Today, the International Joint Commission (IJC) released a report (Health and Environmental Data in the Great Lakes Basin - Integrating Data Collection and Analysis)  prepared by its Health Professionals Advisory Board (HPAB) that addresses the growing need for integrated environmental and health data.  Through a series of consultations with health and environmental experts in Canada and the United States and a literature review, a comprehensive analysis was conducted to review existing environmental and human health datasets in the Great Lakes region and to identify opportunities and challenges for data integration. 

"This report will help the IJC fulfill its responsibilities to assess progress towards restoration of water quality in the Great Lakes," said Rich Moy, U.S. Commissioner.  "The report will also be useful to public health and environmental scientists and managers who are seeking improved access to information to facilitate decision making regarding protection and restoration of ecosystem health."

For the report, more than 250 datasets were identified and organized according to the type of data collected including:  environmental stressors, environmental hazards, human exposure and human health outcomes.  Key factors that affect integration were identified, including:  data availability, accessibility, harmonization, stakeholder collaboration, policy and strategic alignment, resource adequacy, environmental-human health indicators and data exchange networks.

"The report improves the understanding of the challenges of integrating ecosystem and human health data for environmental epidemiology purposes and proposes some solutions," said Gordon Walker, Canadian Commissioner.  "The IJC urges the governments to review the report and recommendations with a goal of helping scientists connect the dots between environmental risks and public health."

In the report, the HPAB made the following eight recommendations:

  • That Canadian and US governments actively engage with public health practitioners, academic researchers, and community groups that represent vulnerable communities in the Great Lakes Basin to identify priority areas for data integration. This report has illustrated the vast data sources that could potentially be integrated; however, it will be important for the data users to identify knowledge gaps and priorities for surveillance that the integration process could address.
  • That governments explore the potential of building onto databases already in place (e.g., Great Lakes Observing System) and/or projects that have already developed exposure estimate techniques and models for similar purposes (e.g., CAREX Canada). These existing projects have the potential to be extended by sampling in the Great Lakes Basin to develop a dataset that is more representative of the Great Lakes Basin population.
  • That the U.S. and Canada establish a cooperative data management system for human health and environmental exposure for the Great Lakes Basin, providing access to data that is accessible to researchers and the general public.
  • That governments improve the quality and usability of data by making funding proportional to the quality, accessibility and the potential to harmonize those data sets collected in the Great Lakes. This should be done in conjunction with a basin-wide initiative to harmonize existing datasets and develop agreements on their joint transboundary use.
  • That the U.S. NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination  Survey) and the CHMS (Canadian Health Measures Survey) include an oversampling for the Great Lakes region that will allow comparisons to the rest of the  two countries. This is necessary because neither survey is constructed to provide information on which health outcomes occur more or less often in the Great Lakes basin.
  • That the U.S. and Canada expand the suite of human health indicators that provide meaningful information on the state of human health related to the Great Lakes environment. Ideally these should move from the current exposure-based indicators into health outcome indicators. The indicators would then guide decisions about priority areas for better data collection and monitoring of human exposures and associated health impacts.
  • Biomonitoring resources should be focused on two vulnerable sub populations: Young children and pregnant women. Health assessments need to accompany biomonitoring information to make it useful for understanding exposure-health associations.
  • First Nations and Tribal populations have distinct needs for environmental health (for example, vulnerability to water quality problems) and should be considered high priority for environmental and health surveillance.

The Commission engaged the Board in this effort as part of its Great Lakes priority to strengthen the delivery and coordination of science.  The Commission is also inviting the public to provide comments on the report through Friday, February 7, 2014  These comments will help to inform potential future IJC recommendations to governments. To comment, see the link at the bottom of this page.