IJC Provides Great Lakes Human Health Indicators for Governments’ Consideration


A report proposing five indicators to assess the potential risk to human health from use of Great Lakes waters has been submitted to the Canadian and United States governments by the International Joint Commission (IJC). 

Recommended Human Health Indicators for Assessment of Progress on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was prepared by the IJC’s Health Professionals Advisory Board (HPAB). The HPAB identifies five indicators that could be used in assessing Great Lakes waters’ potential impact on health and in measuring progress toward meeting the human health objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The Agreement between the United States and Canada includes objectives for restoring and maintaining the Great Lakes to support drinking, swimming and fishing. 

The proposed health indicators are part of a comprehensive IJC process to develop a suite of indicators to help assess progress toward cleaning up and protecting the lakes. The IJC reported to the governments regarding indicators for ecological health earlier this year. 

The Commission made it a priority as part of its 2012-2015 work plan to develop a set of indicators that clearly link to the objectives of the Agreement and measure progress made by government programs. The IJC released a brochure in 2013 that describes the priority work in this area. 

The health indicators are: the chemical integrity of drinking water sources, biological hazards of source water, illness risk at Great Lakes beaches, identified risks at Great Lakes beaches, and contaminant levels in fish. They highlight the close relationship between a thriving Great Lakes ecosystem and the health of people supported by its resources. 

“We believe that the indicators identified can contribute to the governments’ efforts to provide the public with a meaningful assessment of the state of the lakes,” said IJC U.S. Co-chair Lana Pollack and Acting Canadian Co-chair Gordon Walker in a letter to governments presenting the report. 

The recommended indicators were selected by the Health Professionals Advisory Board as a follow-up effort to a February 2013 workshop that included participants from First Nations, Métis, tribes, non-governmental groups, academia, and national, state and provincial governments. 

The IJC and its Advisory Board considered existing work related to drinking water, recreational water, and contaminants in fish by the State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC), and proposed indicators and measures intended to convey the close connection between human health and the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem. 

The International Joint Commission was established under the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to help the United States and Canada prevent and resolve disputes over the use of the waters the two countries share.  Its responsibilities include reporting on progress made under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement between the nations toward restoring and maintaining the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes and connecting waters. 

For more information on the development of these Human Health indicators, see the full report here

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Nick Heisler




Frank Bevacqua