"Achieving the Future - The Next Step"

IJC Great Lakes Roundtable
October 31, 1997

Facilitator's Report

Prepared by
The LURA Group - Toronto

for the

International Joint Commission
100 Ouellette Avenue -- 8th Floor
Windsor, Ontario N9A 6T3
Canada


ACHIEVING THE FUTURE - THE NEXT STEP

International Joint Commission Great Lakes Roundtable
October 31, 1997
Queen's Landing, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario

Facilitator's Report

1.0 Introduction

On October 31, 1997 Commissioners and staff of the International Joint Commission (IJC) convened a Great Lakes Roundtable as part of the IJC's consultation process leading up to preparation of the Ninth Biennial Report in 1998. The roundtable was also a prelude to the IJC's Agreement Public Forum, held in Niagara Falls, Ontario on November 1-2, 1997.

The focus of the roundtable was the effects on human health from persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes. In its invitation to roundtable participants, the IJC summarized the topic and impetus for the roundtable as follows:

In view of the above, the specific purpose of the roundtable was to identify and explore potential strategies to address the issue of human injury due to persistent toxic substances and to provide advice to the IJC on priorities for action. The roundtable will also contribute advice for the IJC's consideration in preparing its Ninth Biennial Report.

Roundtable participants included 25 representatives from a broad cross-section of Great Lakes sectors and organizations with an interest in the human health effects issue, including: agriculture, communication, education, environmental non-government, government, industry, labour, Native American/First Nations, research, social and economic. Five IJC Commissioners also took part and 26 people observed the proceedings. Appendix A lists the participants and Appendix B the observers.

The roundtable consisted of three background presentations followed by facilitated discussions. The facilitated discussions focused on two broad questions relating to the issue of human injury due to persistent toxic substances in the Great Lakes:

This report, prepared by the roundtable facilitator, David Dilks of the LURA Group, provides his perspectives on the key highlights and results emerging from the roundtable discussions. A full transcript of the roundtable proceedings is available from the IJC.

2.0 Perspectives on the Issue

2.1 Background Presentations

As a starting point for the roundtable discussions, background presentations were provided by Commissioner Pierre Béland, Thomas Darvill (State University of New York at Oswego) and Milton Clark (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). Copies of presenters' overheads are available from the IJC. A brief synopsis of each presentation is provided below.

Commissioner Pierre Béland - "Welcome and Introductions"

Dr. Béland welcomed participants to the roundtable, stating that the human health effects issue is of great concern to the IJC. He indicated that there is increasing scientific evidence that persistent toxic substances have, and continue to cause subtle injuries to humans, leading to decreasing fitness of individuals. He noted that while great strides have been made over the last two decades towards the goals of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, more work remains to be done. Specifically, he outlined three main areas of concern: 1) since about 1980, contaminant levels have stopped decreasing; 2) scientific evidence continues to build that persistent toxic substances are responsible for subtle, more insidious injury; and 3) this injury is occurring in humans. Dr. Béland challenged roundtable participants to focus on appropriate actions and what can be done by the Great Lakes community in response to these concerns.

Thomas Darvill, Center for Neurobehavioral Effects of Environmental Toxics, SUNY Oswego - "The Injury and Its Causes"

Dr. Darvill focused on the current findings of a study of newborn and infant development being undertaken by the Center for Neurobehavioral Effects of Environmental Toxics at SUNY Oswego. This is a prospective, longitudinal study of the children of women from Oswego County, New York who consumed large quantities of Lake Ontario sportfish prior to their pregnancy and delivery of their babies. Researchers are taking a dual approach to compare the results of the human study (mothers and their offspring) with those of an experimental design using laboratory rats, and to look for converging evidence between these two tracks. Early results of the newborn and infant development study indicate that at birth, the study subjects show a range of negative effects, including: greater number of abnormal reflexes, autonomic instability, poorer habituation performance and poorer orientation performance (in newborns whose mothers ate fish throughout pregnancy). The study is revealing effects of exposure in the infants of women whose mean umbilical cord blood PCB levels are as low as 0.97 ppb.

Milton Clark, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency - "Policy Implications"

Dr. Clark described two recent meetings which addressed the human health effects issue and resulting policy implications: 1) the May 1997 conference in Montréal featuring presentations of recent research findings from human health studies and 2) the September 1997 workshop at Racine, Wisconsin on the policy implications of the increasing weight of scientific evidence. He noted that participants at the Racine workshop included policymakers as well as representatives from non-government organizations and industry, and that a number of key themes and conclusions emerged from the meeting, including: the weight of evidence of the scientific findings indicates that populations continue to be exposed to contaminants of concern; there are significant health consequences associated with these exposures; cleaning up the Great Lakes must remain a priority; the precautionary principle should apply in the management of the Great Lakes ecosystem; there is sufficient information to justify urgent action to protect human health; and a new environmental ethic is needed to support structural changes necessary in our economic, social and cultural systems. He also summarized specific recommendations from the Racine workshop pertaining to contaminated sites, current and new chemicals, indicators for monitoring and surveillance, education and communication, and other strategic policy initiatives.

2.2 Overview of Roundtable Participants' Perspectives

At the outset of the facilitated discussion portion of the roundtable, participants were asked to share their perspectives on aspects of the issue that are important to them. During this discussion, a number of participants stressed the need for urgent action on the human health effects issue, with several expressing their frustration about the lack of action or the slowness of progress on two main fronts: responding to increasing weight of scientific evidence and meeting the goals of the Agreement. Through their contributions to the discussion, most participants indicated that there is a need to "get on with" developing and most importantly, implementing actions and policy initiatives in response to the growing scientific evidence of human health effects. A wide range of opportunities and priorities for action were identified and explored (see Sections 4.1 and 4.2).

Several participants representing industry raised fundamental concerns or cautions regarding the state of the science and the need for decisive or urgent response. First, it was noted that there are alternative views on the state of the science and that it is important that we "don't get too far in front of the science." Second, concern was raised about whether it is responsible to allocate precious resources towards action on this issue, in view of the state of the science and in comparison to other pressing Great Lakes clean-up priorities.

3.0 Where Are We Now?

3.1 Current Initiatives and Success

Throughout the roundtable discussions, there was a recurring theme that progress has and is being made towards cleaning up the Great Lakes and addressing health effects. Specific initiatives, programs and successes cited by roundtable participants included:

While these and other initiatives and programs have resulted in progress, many roundtable participants noted that additional responses are needed, particularly in view of the increasing scientific evidence relating to human health effects. A number of participants stressed that any new or enhanced action on this issue needs to recognize and build on what is being done now through existing programs, policies and initiatives. As noted previously, representatives from industry cautioned about overreacting on this issue given the state of the science, noting that substantial progress is being made through existing efforts, and calling for responsible allocation of resources to continue to get things done.

3.2 Barriers to Further Action

Roundtable participants identified a number of barriers to further action on the human health effects issue, which are summarized below. These were identified through a brainstorming exercise and do not represent a consensus position among participants.

Lack of an Integrated Transition Planning Process. To date, there has not been a comprehensive, inclusive process established to examine the social and economic implications of bans and phase-outs of specific persistent toxic substances. Past discussions have focused on environmental implications and have failed to integrate social and economic considerations. As a result, "fear" about the potential implications of bans and phase-outs remains widespread: governments fear "political backlash"; industry fears "impacts on shareholders"; and workers fear "job loss."

The Nature of the Issue and Public Engagement. It was noted that the problem of "subtle" health effects could lead to a "subtle" public response. In particular, the media participant identified the difficulty of communicating this issue to the public in the absence of a "smoking gun" and a "crisis" situation. As a result, the public is not engaged on this issue, and it will be challenging to accomplish this in the future.

Lack of an Accountability Framework. It was suggested that there is a lack of a clear, overall framework for government accountability on this issue, with well-defined targets and "one scorekeeper". It was noted that, as a result, defining progress is very difficult. Several participants noted that there are indicator processes (SOLEC, IJC) which should help address this barrier.

Lack of Political Commitment to the Goals of the Agreement. It was suggested that there should be more leadership and commitment among governments (and in other sectors) to achieving the goals of the Agreement. In particular, declining resource allocations by governments to environmental and Great Lakes programs bring into question the capacity of governments to make further progress on this issue.

Failure to Demonstrate and Communicate Economic Benefits of Great Lakes Clean-Up. There has been a lack of progress on demonstrating and communicating the economic benefits of the Great Lakes as a resource in general, and of remediation of this resource in particular.

Misunderstanding of IJC's Role. It was suggested that many do not understand the IJC's role as a "watch-dog" and advisor but, instead, see the IJC as an implementation body. As such, some are mistakenly waiting for the IJC to take a lead role in implementing policy and other changes rather than looking to governments and other stakeholders to do this.

4.0 Where Do We Go From Here?

4.1 Opportunities for Action

As previously indicated, participants stressed that any new or enhanced initiatives in response to the human health effects issue must build on what has been done and is being done now.

As with the barriers summarized in Section 3.2, the following summary of potential opportunities is the product of brainstorming by roundtable participants and does not reflect consensus of the group. The "long list" of opportunities below provided a starting point for participants in identifying priority actions and advice to the IJC (see Section 4.2).

Transition Planning

Health Effects Analysis and Research

RAPs and Restoration

Evaluation of Current Programs

Accountability Framework

Government Leadership

Monitoring

Demonstrating Economic Benefits

Industrial Strategy

Communications and Education

Moving Forward on the Agreement

4.2 Advice to the IJC - Priorities for Action

Using the barriers (Section 3.2) and "long list" of opportunities (Section 4.1) as a starting point, roundtable participants convened in small working sessions to identify priorities for action and advice to the IJC on the health effects issue. These priorities have been summarized below based on the working session reports and do not represent consensus of the full group.

  1. Evaluate Existing Programs. Examine existing programs (RAPs, LaMPs, etc.) to identify strengths and weaknesses, and measure progress towards program goals taking account of social, economic and environmental factors. The IJC should conduct these evaluations and recommend improvements where needed. The IJC's status assessment process was mentioned as a model for these types of program evaluations.
  2. Establish a "Just Transition" Process. Bring stakeholders (industry, government, downstream communities, workers, etc.) together to address the social and economic implications of bans and phase-outs of specific persistent toxic substances and undertake transition planning. A two-part approach was suggested: 1) conduct a retrospective study on the costs and implications of an "unjust transition" (e.g. tetraethyl lead) and 2) conduct a pilot transition planning process. Mercury was identified as a possible case study to pilot a transition planning process. The IJC should support and facilitate this initiative. It was noted that a major body (such as IJC) needs to support this initiative while there is still a "window of opportunity."
  3. Develop Creative Partnerships for Clean-Up. Facilitate further development of hybrid partnerships and creative financing arrangements (e.g. Ashtabula Partnership) and communicate success stories to other AOCs. The IJC can help facilitate partnership development and communication of successes.
  4. Establish a Framework for Greater Government Accountability. Such a framework could include a tracking system for loadings, specific indicators of human health (e.g. health of children, health of high risk populations, etc.) and environmental quality, and requirements for the Parties to report on progress based on these indicators. The IJC should maintain its traditional role as an advocate for accountability and develop specific recommendations for action by governments.
  5. Public Education and Communication. Communication campaigns are needed to inform the public about the injury issue, its causes and effects, and provide an impetus for action. These campaigns should feature mainstream messages (avoiding jargon and technical terminology) and focus on the social and economic aspects of the issue. It was noted that a balance needs to be struck between attracting public attention and "alarmism."
  6. Put Humans Back in the Ecosystem. Enhance basin-wide understanding of human health effects through consideration of health issues by the RAPs and LaMPs, and ensure that adequate funding is available for health-related research (e.g. study of trans-generational effects). The IJC should encourage the Parties to incorporate health issues as part of RAPs and LaMPs.
  7. Economic Analysis of Costs and Benefits. Demonstrate the costs of injury (e.g. costs to communities of unhealthy people, real costs of exposure, etc.), as well as the benefits (e.g. economic valuation of health and well-being).
  8. Atmospheric Deposition. The IJC should encourage governments to ensure that measures to address persistent toxic substances are included in international fora and agreements.


APPENDIX A. PARTICIPANTS

Mr. Thomas L. Baldini
Chairman, U.S. Section
International Joint Commission
1250 23rd Street N.W. -- Suite 100
Washington, D.C. 20440
 
M. Pierre Béland
Commissioner
International Joint Commission
460 du Champ-de-Mars -- Suite 504
Montréal, Québec H2Y 1B4
Mr. Ken Bondy
Chair,
Windsor Regional Environmental Council
CAW Local 200
13150 Harvest Lane
Tecumseh, Ontario N8N 4N7
 
Mrs. Alice Chamberlin
Commissioner
International Joint Commission
1250 23rd Street N.W. -- Suite 100
Washington, D.C. 20440
 
Ms. Edith Chase
League of Women Voters
5731 Caranor Drive
Kent, Ohio 44240
Milton Clark
Senior Health and Science Advisor
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (SR-6J)
77 West Jackson Street
Chicago, Illinois 60604
 
Ms. Maxine Cole
E.A.G.L.E. Project Coordinator
Assembly of First Nations
1 Nicholas Street -- Suite 1002
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
 
Dr. Thomas Darvill
Center for Neurobehavioral Effects of Environmental Toxics
State University of New York
Oswego, New York 13126
Ms. Helen Domske
New York Sea Grant
/ Great Lakes Program
204 Jarvis Hall
SUNY Buffalo
Buffalo, New York 14260-4400
Dr. Mike Donahue
Executive Director
Great Lakes Commission
The Argus Building
400 Fourth Street
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48103-4816
 
Dr. Penny Fenner-Crisp
Office of Prevention,
Pesticides and Toxic Substances (7101)
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
401 M Street S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20460
 
Mr. Stewart Forbes
Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention
265 North Front Street -- Suite 112
Sarnia, Ontario N7T 7X1
Ms. Mary Lou Garr
Niagara Northwest District
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
355 Mud Street, R.R. 3
Smithville, Ontario L0R 2A0
Dr. Andrew P. Gilman
Chief, Health Effects Program Division
Health Canada
Room 1108, Main Statistics Building
Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9
 
Ms. Mary Ginnebaugh
Citizens Environment Alliance
18286 Meridian Road
Grosse Ile, Michigan 48138
Mr. Doug Haines
Great Lakes Health Effects Division
Health Canada
Room 1106, Main Building
Tunney's Pasture
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0K9
 
Mr. Thomas B. Henry
Toledo Blade
541 Superior Street
Toledo, Ohio 43660
 
Mr. Brett Kaull
c/o Congressman Steve Latourette
1508 Longworth Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
 
Mr. Brian Kohler
National Representative
Health, Safety & Environment
Communications, Energy &
Paperworkers Union of Canada
350 Albert Street -- Suite 1900
Ottawa, Ontario K1R 1A4
 
Mr. George H. Kuper
Council of Great Lakes Industries
1968 Green Road / P. O. Box 134006
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48113-4006
Mr. Leonard Legault
Chairman, Canadian Section
International Joint Commission
100 Metcalfe Street -- 18th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5M1
 
Mr. Les Leopold
The Labor Institute
853 Broadway -- Room 2014
New York, New York 10003
Ms. Ann McCammon Soltis
Great Lakes Indian Fish
and Wildlife Commission
P.O. Box 9
Odanah, Wisconsin 54861
Mr. John Mills
Regional Director General, Ontario Region
Environment Canada
4905 Dufferin Street
Downsview, Ontario M5H 5T4
 
Mr. Paul Muldoon
Canadian Environmental Law Association
517 College Street -- Suite 401
Toronto, Ontario M6G 4A2
Mr. Frank Murphy
Commissioner
International Joint Commission
100 Metcalfe Street -- 18th Floor
Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5M1
 
Mr. Charles Pautler
Director, Program Development Branch
Ontario Ministry of Environment
135 St. Clair Avenue West
Toronto, Ontario M4V 1P5
 
Mr. Dale K. Phenicie
Environmental Affairs Consulting
402 Lighthouse Lane
Peachtree City, Georgia 30269
Dr. Bernard Weiss
Environmental Medicine
University of Rochester
Box EHSC
Rochester, New York 14642
Mr. Terry Yonker
Lake Erie Alliance
139 Jackson Street
Youngstown, New York 14174


APPENDIX B. OBSERVERS

Mr. Ted Bailey
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Charles Bake
Canadian Auto Workers
 
Mr. Tom Behlen
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Peter Boyer
International Joint Commission
 
Dr. Marty Bratzel
International Joint Commission
 
Ms. Valerie Brunette
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Jim Chandler
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Murray Clamen
International Joint Commission
 
Dr. Theo Colborn
The Conservation Foundation
 
Mr. James Cowden
 
Ms. Sophie De Villers
Health Canada
 
Mr. Michael Gilbertson
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Mike Goffin
Environment Canda
 
Ms. Margarita Howe
 
Mr. Rudy Koop
International Joint Commission
 
Mrs. Charlotte Lamoureux
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Paul H. MacClennan
 
Mr. Dave Maraldo
Anishinabek / Ontario Fisheries Research Centre
 
Mr. Doug McTavish
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Vic Shantora
Environment Canada
 
Mr. Ian Smith
 
Mr. Pete Thomas
CAW Local 200
 
Mr. Geoffrey Thornburn
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Garwood Tripp
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. Michael Vechsler
International Joint Commission
 
Mr. E. T. Wagner
Waterfront Regeneration Trust