7.6
WATERBORNE PATHOGENS IN THE GREAT LAKES:
EXISTING AND EMERGING NEEDS FOR ASSESSING RISKS AND SOLUTIONS
7.6.1
Information
disconnected and fail to address the hydrologic cycle from
a holistic fashion.  However, common approaches for
O
ne of the key cornerstones of public health and
examining protection of water basins and watersheds, use
community health is access to safe water and it has
of science-based and risk-based data and developing
been known since the time of John Snow that
information with a goal toward protection of ecological and
exposure to polluted water leads to waterborne disease in
human health, tie these two acts together.  Microbial
the population (Vinten-Johansen et al. 2003).  While
contaminants (waterborne pathogens) often have been
cholera and typhoid were the diseases of concern in the
ignored in water quality assessment and protection plans in
19th and 20th centuries worldwide, as we embark on the 21st
lieu of a major focus on chemical contaminants.  Yet, 60
century, developed nations are faced with new challenges,
percent of the water impairment for recreational use is
including new and reemerging bacteria, parasites and
based on excess bacterial fecal indicators and known health
viruses.  Part of the rationale for the Boundary Waters
risks associated with exposure to waterborne pathogens
Treaty of 1909 was the occurrence of waterborne infectious
have been described.
diseases in the major cities throughout the Great Lakes and
the possibility of pollution on one side of the boundary
Health Canada is involved in a number of activities related
injuring public health on the other side.
to Canadian water quality, including the development of
the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and
The major concerns leading up to the negotiations and
the Guidelines for Recreational Water Quality.  The Guide-
signing of 1972 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
lines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality are produced in
included considerations of diseases associated with
collaboration with the provinces and territories and other
microbiological agents.  Much of the work of the 1978
federal departments via the Committee on Environmental
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, amended by
and Occupational Health.  Health Canada is also working
Protocol in 1987, has focused on persistent toxic sub-
with the Committee on Environmental and Occupational
stances, but the SAB is cognizant of its ongoing responsi-
Health to produce a ‘Source to Tap’ document that details a
bilities to advise the IJC on the status of research on
multi-barrier strategy for the provision of safe drinking
microbiological agents.  At the 27th meeting of the
water.  This document describes best management prac-
Workgroup on Ecosystem Health, held in Windsor on
tices designed to ensure drinking water quality, but can also
November 13, 2002, Tom Edge of the National Water
be extended to recreational waters under the approach to
Research Institute in Burlington, Ontario, delivered a
source water protection.
presentation on advances in research on ongoing issues in
microbiology.
Health Canada has identified a number of research gaps
relating to pathogens of human health concern in the Great
Waterborne disease outbreaks have risen in the U.S. in the
Lakes.  Research is needed to improve our understanding
recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control,
of the sources of pathogens and their prevalence and
associated with drinking water and recreational waters (Lee
distribution, in order to develop strategies for remediation.
et al. 2002).  This is despite new rules and regulations
governing water.  Waterborne disease outbreaks also have
Much attention has been given just recently to emerging
been a growing concern in Canada (Edge et al. 2001),
pathogens.  The reasons for this apparent  “emergence” of
particularly after recent outbreaks in Walkerton, Ontario,
pathogens has been attributed to many factors.
and North Battleford, Saskatchewan.  Currently there is no
estimate on the amount of endemic waterborne disease in
Sensitive or susceptible populations: There is an
the Great Lakes region.
increasing number of elderly and
immunocompromised (transplant patients, AIDs
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is the federal
patients) individuals in our communities, in addition
agency charged with protecting and regulating our waters
to diabetics, infants, and pregnant women, all who
under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 and the Clean
may be more susceptible to severe outcomes (Gerba et
Water Act, a 1977 amendment to the Federal Water Pollu-
al. 1996).
tion Control Act of 1972.  The two acts are often seen as
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