Scientific Challenges for Decisionmaking
The highest priority for future work on the endocrine effects of environmental exposures to chemicals is the development of research strategies based on more sophisticated analysis of behavioural and endocrine endpoints that might be expected to be influenced by developmental exposure to hormonally-active agents.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In animals, certain chemicals in the environment can cause a range of effects on the endocrine and endocrine responsive organ systems. An important subsequent question is to determine if these effects are observed in, or can reasonably be extrapolated to humans under environmental exposure conditions.
The Science Advisory Board recommends that:
Although everyone recognizes that there is a kind of credibility continuum between the first suggestion that some factor is a hazard to life in the Great Lakes basin and strict scientific "proof" that this suggestion of harm is indeed the fact, finding the point in the continuum that indicates a sufficient level of proof that the factor is more likely than not a true hazard, however, is more difficult. Many such early suspicions turn out to be wrong. Yet, waiting for absolute assurance capable of convincing even the most sceptical scientist, may result in irreparable and irreversible damage to the ecosystem and human health. Premature alarms risk socioeconomic havoc and can discredit public policy as being poorly supported by the scientific fact.
The decisionmaking process is divided into two complementary arms: risk assessment, which results in hazard identification and uncertainty analysis; and risk management, which particularizes the policy to a geographical and temporal application, resulting in a way to proceed for the present with appropriate safeguards against a wrong decision.
Transparency in the processes of risk assessment and risk management is needed, as well as disclosure of the level of proof required in a particular decision, and safeguards after the decision is made to monitor for any unanticipated results of the policy.
The Science Advisory Board recommends that:
A Global Climate Change Workshop was convened on December 6-8, 1993 in Ypsilanti, Michigan by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), the Cooperative Institute for Limnology and Ecosystems Research (CILER) and the Great Lakes Commission. The Administrator of NOAA had charged GLERL with developing the United States component of a binational Great Lakes global climate change study. The objective of the workshop was to link the study with the ongoing initiative coordinated by the Canadian Atmospheric Environment Service. The purpose of the workshop was:
The workshop included nine formal presentations and five breakout discussion groups focussing on issues related to: economic/social assessment and impacts; ecosystem and public health; landscape/long-term measurements; physical/climate systems; and water policy and management.
The main conclusions and recommendations can be summarized as follows: potential effects of climate change and variability could have several consequences for the economic, environmental and social fabric of the Great Lakes basin:
A U.S. committee met in the fall of 1994 and spring of 1995 to plan a binational symposium to develop a Binational Implementation Plans as a terms of reference for the Great Lakes - St. Lawrence Climate Change Project.
The goal of the Binational Implementation Plan is to undertake research which will improve the understanding of the complex interaction between climate change and variability, the environment, and our social and economic systems so that informed regional adaptation responses can be developed for the sustainable management of the region.
The research framework is flexible and comprehensive and provides a basis for further research initiatives to add to the knowledge base of the binational project as opportunities arise. Specific study areas that would benefit from additional research include:
Much of the current climate impact assessment research has focused on the southern portion of the basin, while Lakes Superior and Huron, the St. Lawrence River, and inland waterbodies have received less research.
Conclusions and Recommendations
The Science Advisory Board congratulates the Parties for developing a comprehensive and integrated research program that addresses many of the major issues concerning climate change relevant to the Great Lakes. It is noted that a symposium is planned for 1996, as a followup to the binational meeting initially held in Chicago in 1988. This symposium will provide a major opportunity for researchers to discuss and incorporate current global and regional efforts in order to develop the 1988 proposal to develop an integrated study of the Great Lakes basin as a regional pilot project for an international response to global climate change. This recommendation was recently reiterated by the IJC in their Seventh Biennial Report.
The proposed Binational Implementation Plan develops such an integrated study, providing it receives Parties support through to its completion in 2001. Accordingly, the Science Advisory Board recommends that:
(Science Advisory Board, Chapter 2, p. 109)
The issue of persistent toxic substances remains a focal point for many Great Lakes constituencies, and similarly, for the International Joint Commission (IJC or Commission). Indeed the IJC has proposed a number of policy directions and action steps to address this problem, as demonstrated in its recommendations to the Parties. More specifically, the Commission made special reference to the need for all sectors of society to assist in the transition away from the use, generation and discharge of persistent toxic substances and toward cleaner production processes. In effect, the IJC recognized that an effective virtual elimination strategy must include the issue of how to sunset substances in light of the technological, social and economic components that might arise.
The Science Advisory Board's (SAB) Workgroup on Parties Implementation recognized the importance of transition mechanisms and planning. The role of these mechanisms and processes in the context of virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances is to facilitate social and other changes, by providing a forum for all those affected to evaluate progress, identify alternatives and agree on priorities.
The Workgroup hosted a Workshop on "Transition to Virtual Elimination" in 1995. The issue for the workshop was how to plan for a transition, not if phaseout of a targeted substance should occur. The workshop was centred around a case study using polychlorinated dioxins and furans (PCDD/F) as specific virtual elimination candidates.
Taking into account the discussion at the workshop and the deliberations of the Workgroup, and the SAB as a whole, a number of recommendations were formulated. Reference should be made to the text of the SAB chapter for the full set of recommendations. However, the key four recommendations include:
(Science Advisory Board, Chapter 2, p. 105)
In 1994, the Workgroup on Parties Implementation of the Science Advisory Board sought to investigate the status of toxics reduction programs and related activities by federal and provincial/state governments in the Great Lakes basin. The Workgroup contacted 99 agency representatives across the Great Lakes states, the Province of Ontario, and in both federal governments, and used their responses to create a list of laws, programs and data relevant to toxic chemicals. The following paragraphs summarize the findings of this study:
Laws: All jurisdictions had laws in place to reduce discharges of toxic chemicals. Few of these laws require data collection and few address all environmental compartments. Datasets collected by statutory authority contain compliance information and therefore may be limited to certain types of substances and may vary considerably from place to place in terms of detail, data collection techniques, and timeliness.
Programs: Multi-media toxics reduction programs have been initiated through a number of voluntary industrial agreements. Some voluntary programs exist in local and regional municipalities for the control of household hazardous wastes, and rural nonpoint source reduction activities are sponsored by many agricultural agencies as part of farm environmental planning. Little effort is directed to discharges of toxic chemicals from nonpoint sources, including wellhead (groundwater) protection programs. Many toxics reduction programs have a specific media or contaminant focus and thus are difficult to compare across jurisdictions.
Measurable Results: Very little historical information is available on basinwide ecosystem conditions in the Great Lakes basin. Available data comprises primarily detailed information about localized problems and conditions. As a result of this fragmented database, few agencies have sufficient data to make a comprehensive assessment of ambient water quality with respect to toxic chemicals; few agencies have sufficient data to identify the relative contribution of toxic chemicals made by type of source (for example, agricultural nonpoint sources versus industrial point sources); and few agencies have sufficient data to allow assessment of toxic chemical discharges or receiving water impact trends over time.
It is evident from this review that the Parties have not succeeded in developing joint or binational approaches to toxics reduction programs or data inventories, in part because of differing legal frameworks, different approaches to toxics management issues, and different requirements for data collection and analysis. While the Parties' programs need not be identical, it is the Workgroup's view that the Parties need to improve their ability to compare progress on a basinwide basis if they are to meet their obligations under the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
The Science Advisory Board recommends that:
(a) develop standardized binational mechanisms and criteria to assess toxic chemical management laws, programs and data collection activities
(b) provide advice to the Commission on the design and implementation of such activities in order to assess toxics loadings to the Great Lakes basin.
(Science Advisory Board, Chapter 2, p. 101)
The Commission's Seventh Biennial Report reiterated a preventive, rather than a reactive or controlling, approach to the elimination of persistent toxic substances from the basin. The Commission asked the Water Quality Board to investigate the application of this approach; the Science Advisory Board joined this effort to address some of the technical, socio-economic and cultural aspects of pollution prevention. The Boards hosted a Pollution Prevention Workshop in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 29 and 30, 1995; the Water Quality Board Chapter to this report contains a detailed summary of this workshop.
Secure in the strong regulatory underpinning developed over the last 25 years, every agency in the basin is moving toward preventing, as well as controlling, pollution. A few industries adapted this approach in the early 1970s, and it has been formalized in the U.S. Pollution Prevention Act of 1990 and the commitment of the Canadian federal and provincial governments under the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment in 1993.
Pollution prevention is focused on the reduction or limitation of the creation of pollutants or waste at source, and usually includes interactions on a voluntary basis, consideration of multi-media concerns, provisions of technical assistance by government, and the use of positive incentives, such as award programs.
Several substantial programs were reviewed by the Water Quality Board, including those of the automotive and chemical manufacturers. European practices, particularly in regard to lifetime product stewardship, management of wastes from the household level upwards and consideration of the removal of certain commercial substances from the marketplace, were also discussed at the workshop.
In the longer term, the focus appears to be on a lifecycle analysis of products and application of 'design for the environment' - including disassembly - approach. The full costs of production, from raw material, energy inputs and recycling/reuse or ultimate disposal, must be considered. Wastes must be redefined as useful materials, and material management inventories should supplant waste inventories.
To be most effective, the training and education provided to technical personnel, both in academic institutions and at the worksite, should reflect this broader view; finance and management personnel should also embrace it. Fundamental changes in the production of chemicals are under development and should be encouraged. Barriers, both institutional and regulatory, must be identified and overcome.
The workshop emphasized that: i) regulatory action would continue to be a necessary stimulant to the pollution prevention approach; ii) to be most effective, the approach must extend to all levels of society; iii) energy considerations are one of the basic elements of pollution prevention; iv) a means to quantify specific reductions or eliminations of contamination from pollution prevention should be pursued; v) should it be re-negotiated, pollution prevention should be more thoroughly developed in subsequent Great Lakes Water Quality Agreements.
The Water Quality and Science Advisory Boards jointly recommend
Significant regulatory barriers prevent extensive
adoption of a lifecycle approach to the management of waste
residuals and obsolete products as part of a sustainable
materials economy. The Commission should encourage the
systematic identification of these by the Parties to correspond
with the goals and policy of pollution prevention. Lifecycle
management should include the concept of reincarnation so that
wastes are treated as resources, and managed as
In addition, the Water Quality Board recommends that:
Lake Erie Ecological Model Prototype
With the beginning of a new biennial cycle in October 1993, the Commissioners assigned a series of priorities and their sub-elements to various International Joint Commission (IJC) Boards and Committees. These included, "Ecosystem Framework" and "Wetlands" which were assigned to the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, and "Pesticide Usage," "Groundwater," and "Pollution from Land Use Activities (PLUARG)," which were assigned to the Water Quality Board. These sub-elements are reported on elsewhere in the referenced sections.
The "Ecological Changes" sub-element, initially assigned to the Lake Erie Steering Committee, was subsequently expanded to include preparation of a prototype ecological model of Lake Erie. The committee was upgraded to Task Force status and available resources were redirected in order to achieve this goal.
The Task Force is pleased to report that the modelling approach is showing potential as a sustainable aid in assisting Lake Erie managers to arrive at appropriate policy decisions. In addition, the model is capable of identifying the effects of stressors on the Lake Erie ecosystem, in particular the fishery component. The model structure provides for an understanding, through testing and discovery, of the effects and interactions between stressors, and the linkages between stressors in the lake's ecosystem.
The challenge is to ensure that the modelling exercise, currently in its prototype form, continues beyond this first, rough-cut iteration. To ensure that the model becomes a useable tool must be the Task Force's next step.
The Task Force has laid out a process which, if followed, will ensure that progress continues. With continued collaboration of advisors and the identification of a few additional "leaders," we can better use our limited resources. This approach has been identified by the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers as the hope and challenge for the next five years. The Task Force endorses this approach.
The development of the Lake Erie Ecological Modelling Project has been an extremely positive exercise for the Task Force. We are indebted to the advisors, and especially the LURA Group and Drs. J. Koonce and A. Locci, who participated in making this effort worthwhile.
The Lake Erie Task Force concludes that the model has the potential to be valuable tool for use by Lake Erie managers, scientists and researchers, and has the potential to be adapted for use on other Great Lakes. This modelling exercise reflects the considerable leadership of the Commission in moving towards an understanding of changes to the Lake Erie ecosystem. By starting the development of an ecosystem model, changes can be better understood and even predicted, and thus managers can move forward with a higher degree of confidence.
Through the establishment of a special Task Force on Lake Erie, the IJC has indicated that the Lake Erie priority is of significant importance. By initiating the development of this prototype, the IJC is facilitating progress. We suggest that the IJC continue in this leadership role.
The Task Force recommends that the IJC continue efforts to develop the Lake Erie model through the next biennial cycle.
(Lake Erie Task Force, Chapter 4, p. 157)
During the past five years, the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers has developed an ecosystem framework. The objective was to develop a schematic diagram to link knowledge about the natural systems in the Great Lakes basin with societal and institutional processes and thereby aid in the selection of research priorities and policy options. The Commission requested the Council of Great Lakes Research Managers to provide advice on applying the methodology to the issue of zebra mussels in Lake Erie as part of its 1993-1995 priorities. The Council held a workshop in Ann Arbor on January 17 and 18, 1995 to carry out this request.
Primarily in response to the introduction of zebra mussels into the Great Lakes, Congress enacted the Nonindigenous Aquatic Nuisance Prevention and Control Act in 1990. The Act establishes an interagency Aquatic Nuisance Species Task Force responsible for developing a framework to reduce the risk of unintentional introductions and to monitor and control nuisance species that are already in aquatic environments throughout the United States.
The Council workshop was designed to help various people representing diverse viewpoints and interests to examine the complex problem of recommending priorities for research on zebra mussels, and to come to decisions that were acceptable to all.
Research priorities for zebra mussels in Lake Erie should be inclusive of preventive and mitigative approaches. Preventive approaches include the identification of potential invaders, their environmental requirements and tolerances, and the determination of preventive measures through the development of legislation and appropriate technology, particularly related to shipping and navigation. After an invasion by an exotic species, mitigative approaches become publicly mandated. Predictive models should then be developed to establish effects on nutrient and contaminant cycling, integrated control strategies through understanding of the consequences of the various control options, and the development of physical rather than chemical control measures.
(Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, Chapter 3, p.145)
Under the Lake Erie focus of the 1993-95 Commission priorities, the Water Quality Board was asked to investigate recent developments in the agricultural sector, with an emphasis on pesticide use and effects. It did so through two sponsored workshops.
The Board verified that, as one of the most actively cultivated areas in the basin (and in North America), the Lake Erie basin continues to receive millions of kilograms of pesticides applied to crops, particularly corn and soybeans. The effects of one pesticide, atrazine, particularly on drinking water quality, appear particularly worthy of further investigation.
The workshops also noted agency support for management practices, including Integrated Pest Management to reduce pesticide use, and the effectiveness of conservation tillage in reducing sedimentation of waterways. Continued support is needed for pesticide inventory development, Environmental Farm Planning on an individual basis, and the application of remote sensing and positioning technology to improve fertilizer and pesticide applications, and to verify progress of conservation tillage.
(Water Quality Board, Chapter 1, p. 48)
Under the Lake Erie priority, the Water Quality Board supported a literature review of groundwater impacts in that basin. The study characterized groundwater flow to the lake, including the transport of nitrate and pesticides via agricultural tile drainage. Deep well disposal activities in the vicinity of the St. Clair River and estimated groundwater flows to portions of the basin were noted; however, the current data base was not judged adequate to derive a total groundwater flow estimate for the basin. The study suggested that a further compilation of groundwater-related research is necessary, as well as field assessments of the potential for groundwater transport through the bottom sediments of the lake. Further determinations of the chemical composition of groundwater discharges was also suggested.
The Water Quality Board recommends that the Commission promote the preventive approach in protection of the groundwater resource and encourage the Parties to proactively implement Annex 16 (the Groundwater Annex) of the Agreement.
(Water Quality Board, Chapter 1, p. 53)
The original task undertaken by the Subgroup on Measuring Ecosystem Health under the priorities for the 1993-1995 biennium was to prepare a discussion paper on methods for the diagnosis, prognosis, treatment and rehabilitation of ecosystems under stress. It was decided that human health issues in the context of ecosystem health needed to be addressed. The Subgroup contracted with the Chair of Environmental Health, McMaster University (Drs. John Eyles and Donald Cole) for the production of a monograph Human Health in Ecosystem Health: Issues of Meaning and Measurement to address this topic. The monograph discusses ecosystem health in relation to human environmental wellbeing in its broadest sense as an essential context for human health. This section addresses human health primarily as defined as an absence of disease, i.e. to highlight for the Science Advisory Board chapter of the priorities report what is known about human disease that flows from exposure to agents within ecosystems, rather than being determined by human genetics, lifestyle behaviours, nutrition or social determinants such as class, poverty, education and self-esteem.
The best evidence for environmental health effects comes from epidemiological studies when such evidence is available. Such studies are limited by the difficulties in assessing the exposures to toxic agents as environmental exposure levels (i.e. accurately classifying who is relatively highly exposed and who is not). Epidemiological studies also require that the outcome - the health effect - be measured accurately. Much of the concern regarding environmental exposures relates to subtle effects: influences on neuro-behavioural development, IQ, psychosexual development, and fertility that may be significant if they occur broadly throughout the whole population, although the impact or deficit for an individual is of little consequence. Other outcomes are of high significance for the individual - cancers, birth defects - but are at low risk at environmental levels of exposure. Because these outcomes can be caused by many factors, it is often difficult to determine if an environmental factor is adding to the burden of illness. Environmental health risks can also be estimated by risk assessment protocols using animal data on cancer and birth defect risks. In some situations, health effects that have manifested themselves in occupational settings can reasonably be extrapolated back to environmental exposures.
The environmental burden of illness refers to the proportion of illnesses, of particular health outcomes that can be attributed to particular environmental exposures. If the relative risk of an outcome occurring in individuals exposed in the populations is known and the prevalence of exposure is known, the risk attribution to the exposure in the population, the population attributable risk, can be calculated. Unfortunately, very little precise information exists on exposures to toxic chemicals through the ambient environment in the Great Lakes basin.
Although it is difficult to attribute a specific proportion of the overall burden of illness to the environment or ecosystem degradation, human health is a vital consideration in the ecosystem health paradigm. Ecosystem health internalizes human wellbeing as part of the environment, while a human health focus internalizes environment for individual and community wellbeing. The strength of the metaphor or paradigm is clear. Ecosystem health sees humans as integral parts of nature. The metaphor resonates strongly with core values about ourselves, our identity and our place in the world.
We must recognize in our effects to "measure" ecosystem health and human health as an integral part of it, that "ecosystem," "health" and similar terms are abstracted notions with implications not only for what but also how we measure things. All indicators are goal directed; they essentially monitor "system" change given desired outcomes. All indicators (as they are selected from an unknowable universe of all possible indicators) are normative. "Ecosystem" and/or "environment" is a core value of interest in the identity formation and concerns of populations in the Great Lakes basin. The value sets that determine indicator selection for ecosystem health and human health indicators should be clearly indicated for any developed set of indicators. Separate indicators of ecosystem health and human health are required since their goals and targets are different, in the former case, ecosystem stability, persistence or resilience; in the latter, the disease or illness state of individuals. There is a link, however, between indicators of the health of human populations (public health) and indicators of ecosystem health.
The Science Advisory Board recommends that the Commission, in
its priority activities and its advice to the Parties, support
further research to determine ambient levels of exposure to toxic
chemicals in the Great Lakes basin and incorporate the following
general principles for further development of environmental
The Science Advisory Board recommends that:
(Science Advisory Board, Chapter 2, p. 68)
Through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, the Governments of the United States and Canada are committed to restore and maintain the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of the waters of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. For more than two decades, numerous programs and measures have been undertaken towards this purpose.
Under Article VII of the Agreement, the International Joint Commission is charged to evaluate Agreement progress and provide advice to governments. To fulfill its mandate, the Commission requires data and information. To assist in reviewing these requirements and to develop a framework within which to conduct its evaluation and develop advice, the Commission established, in 1993, an Indicators for Evaluation Task Force.
The Task Force held an Issues Definition Session (December 2-3, 1993) and an Indicators Workshop (October 5-6, 1994), to acquaint itself with relevant activities and to identify specific indicators to evaluate Agreement progress. It subsequently developed a draft White Paper, which was circulated (May 1995) for review to the Commission's Boards and the Council, workshop participants, and selected others. Based on the comments received, the Task Force prepared a revised, final report containing findings, conclusions, and recommendations. The report has been submitted to the Commission as a separate document, to which the reader is referred.
To obtain a copy of the report, please contact the International Joint Commission, 100 Ouellette Avenue - Eighth Floor, Windsor, Ontario N9A 6T3 or P.O. Box 32869, Detroit, Michigan 48232-2869.
(Indicators for Evaluation Task Force, Chapter 5, p. 173)
Since the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was first signed in 1972, a continuing terms of reference has included examining and advising the Commission on the adequacy of research, and promoting research coordination. Over the intervening years a series of research inventories have been produced to meet these requirements. This responsibility has been a relatively resource-intensive undertaking and during the 1993-1995 biennial cycle the Council completed it through two of its member organizations, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Ontario Ministry of Environment and Energy. Staff at the Great Lakes Regional Office coordinated the requests for information from the principal investigators and forwarded the information to these two agencies.
A series of changes has also occurred in the preparation of the research inventory. For example, information is now collected on research projects undertaken on a much wider variety of topics to reflect the ecosystem approach to management of the Great Lakes Basin Ecosystem. In addition to the research on pollution by nutrients, toxic substances and radionuclides, topics include the introduction of exotic species, land use and wetlands, shoreline and upland habitat, resource management including fisheries, wildlife and forestry, and natural ecological processes. These categories make up a new classification system.
In the past, it has been a challenge to produce and publish the research inventory in a timely manner. The cost has been substantial and the data have frequently been out of date by the time that the document was completed. In addition to undertaking the work through compatible binational systems within the two member agencies, the Council decided to make the inventory accessible through the Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) and through computer disk.
(Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, Chapter 3, p. 140)
The current members of the scientific research community in Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River comprise an aging population. The Council of Great Lakes Research Managers has raised the need to replenish this population with well-trained graduates prepared to investigate issues in a multidisciplinary manner.
The Council has concluded that many government research scientists will be retiring by the end of the 1990s; overall production of science and engineering graduates in the basin has risen slightly over the past decade; there does not seem to be a shortage of qualified graduates to replace the present professionals when they retire; and, the timing to recruit qualified graduates to replace the professionals who are retiring in the next ten years may be crucial for the continuity of Great Lakes research.
(Council of Great Lakes Research Managers, Chapter 3, p. 140)
Contaminated sediments have emerged as a major technology and financing challenge for the Areas of Concern (AOCs). Activities undertaken at Collingwood Harbour can serve as a model for the remaining AOCs, which are striving to complete remedial actions. As funding for Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) and Lakewide Management Plans (LaMPs) becomes even more constrained, the importance of socio-economic considerations, particularly in remediating contaminated sediments, is becoming apparent. Priorities must be set so that strategies which incorporate sensible staged completion of costly remedial actions can be developed.
A set of questions to guide reviewers of Stage 1 and Stage 2 LaMPs has been developed. Development of these questions before the International Joint Commission has commenced the review of any LaMPs ensures that all involved individuals understand the Commission s expectations for the content of LaMPs. Questions to guide the review of Stage 3 and Stage 4 LaMPs are under development.
(Annex 2 Review Activities, Chapter 6, p. 177)