8.2
UNDERSTANDING MICROBIAL POLLUTION AND UNMONITORED CHEMICAL CONTAMINANTS
IN THE GREAT LAKES BASIN
gaps relating to these threats to human health in the Great
8.2.1
Activities
Lakes.  It is important to note, in the context of this
T
discussion, that pathogens may be introduced from outside
he Council focussed on the issue of microbial
sources, existing pathogens that are not being monitored
pollution and unmonitored chemicals during the
well enough, or “newly emerging” pathogens that have
2001-2003 biennial reporting cycle.  The threats of
evolved in the environment.  The Council’s recommenda-
unmonitored chemicals and pathogens in waters used for
tions for addressing this problem hold true regardless of
human consumption or recreation are very similar and may
the point of origin.
be linked.  For example, it is thought that the unmonitored
release of antibiotics into the environment is part of the
supposed cause of resistant bacteria.  This report expands
8.2.3
Background
upon the Council’s advice regarding emerging contami-
nants and pharmaceuticals in Great Lakes waters published
In recent years, many prescription and non-prescription
in the 1999-2001 Priorities Report.  Those recommenda-
drugs and household products have been found in
tions were reflected in concerns expressed by the IJC in its
wastewater treatment plant effluents, surface waters and
discussion of unmonitored chemicals in Section 13 of its
ground water throughout the United States (Todd and
Eleventh Biennial Report on Great Lakes Water Quality
Haack 2001).  Many of these chemicals are bioactive (the
and have initiated a dialog with government representatives
intended purpose of pharmaceuticals) and they include a
to address these important human health concerns.  In
wide variety of industrial and agricultural chemicals known
addition to concerns regarding unmonitored chemicals,
to mimic or inhibit various endocrine functions, such as
the  Eleventh Biennial Report highlighted the risk of alien
invasive species and microorganisms into Great Lakes
effects on development, reproductive function,
neurobehavior or the immune system (NRC 1999).  Unlike
waters through ballast water discharge.  These prior IJC
the priority persistent toxic pollutants identified in the
reports led the Council to explore research needs associ-
Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, most of these
ated with microbial pollution and to provide further input
chemicals, potentially capable of altering biological
on this critical human health issue in the 2001-2003
functions of exposed individuals and populations, are
Priorities Report.
unregulated and, thus, unmonitored.
There is a similar lack of regulation and monitoring for
8.2.2
Purpose
pathogens because for the most part only fecal indicator
bacteria are required to be regulated in drinking water.
The Council’s activities in this area are aimed at addressing
The presence of these bacteria only indicates whether or
human health issues related to water quality that are not
not fecal pollution has occurred, but not necessarily
well understood and are not being addressed by the parties
whether pathogens are present.  Indeed, some organisms
to the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement or other
of concern, such as toxic algae and cyanobacteria, are
regulatory agencies.  These issues fall into two major
present in the absence of fecal pollution.  The American
categories:
Society for Microbiology reports “an alarming lack of focus
on microorganisms” in studies of the nation’s watersheds
The impacts of non-regulated chemicals, such as
and recommends “scientific assessment to address the
pharmaceuticals, similar compounds used in agricul-
microbial safety of the nation’s waters (Rose et al. 1999).”
ture, personal care/household products, etc.
The Centers for Disease Control report that more than one
third of waterborne disease outbreaks in U.S. recreational
The introduction of microbial pathogens, such as toxic
and drinking water from 1971-1998 were due to “acute
algae or bacteria, viruses, and protozoa of human
gastrointestinal illness of unknown etiology (CDC 2000).”
health concern.
A similar situation exists in Canada.
The Council summarizes relevant issues concerning the
The Great Lakes are subjected to environmental stresses
impact of non-regulated chemicals and the introduction of
similar to those experienced by other large bodies of water
microbiological agents, and it highlights research needs or
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