Report proposes criteria for measuring progress toward making Great Lakes fishable, swimmable and drinkable


Recommended Human Health Indicators for Assessment of Progress on the Great Lakes Water Quality AgreementA report proposing five Great Lakes indicators for human health has been submitted to the International Joint Commission (IJC) for its consideration by the IJC’s Health Professionals Advisory Board (HPAB).

Recommended Human Health Indicators for Assessment of Progress on the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement identifies five indicators to use in assessing the 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 calling 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, including those measuring ecological health, to help assess progress toward cleaning up and protecting the lakes.

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 indicators proposed by the Advisory Board are: the chemical integrity of source water, 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 people supported by its resources.

"These five indicators provide information to help make more informed decisions to protect public health, and in assessing the impact of the Great Lakes waters on human health and communities," said Marg Sanborn, Canadian co-chair of the HPAB.

The Advisory Board’s recommendations come after 15 months of analysis, public engagement and input from a wide range of interests including First Nations, Métis, tribes, non-governmental groups, academia, and national, state and provincial governments.

The 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 proposes expanded measures intended to convey the close connection between human health and the state of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

"These indicators will help researchers and policy makers from around the Great Lakes basin monitor changes to the Lakes’ ecosystem over time and help assess progress toward meeting goals of clean, healthy water for all users," said John Dellinger, U.S. co-chair of the Advisory Board.

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 maintain 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.



John Dellinger, Ph.D.: 414 403-7777

Howard Shapiro, M.D., FRCPC: 416-338-0478

Hugh McDiarmid: 519-257-6733