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June 14, 2004

Report Highlights Importance of Chesapeake Bay Health to Human Health

Through a joint project with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), the Center for a Livable Future (CLF) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has released Linking Ecological and Human Health: The Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators Project, a report that underscores the need for increased assessment and knowledge of the links between environmental quality and protection of public health. The Chesapeake Bay is an ecological treasure that drives our region’s economy, feeds us and receives our wastewaters. The report examines how the growing human population has altered the Bay’s ecological systems, putting both the ecosystem and human health at risk.

“The findings of this report are of vital concern to everyone in the Bay region. It is essential that we improve our ability to identify and track sources of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as evaluating the potential risks to both human health and the health of the Bay,” said Kim Coble, Maryland Executive Director of CBF. “CLF’s study underscores the need to identify emerging hazards in order to define research needs and strengthen the scientific basis for environmental and health policies.”

Important advances in monitoring environmental quality have been made since clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay began in the 1980s. However, much less progress has been made in assessing the relationship between Bay and human health. CBF’s annual State of the Bay Report measures the Chesapeake’s environmental quality. A similar tool for tracking human health impacts from environmental degradation is needed.

Linking Ecological and Human Health:The Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators Project, the initial study of the Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators Project, gives an overview of human and ecological stressors in the Chesapeake region and presents three examples of indicators that measure problems for both ecosystem and human health:

Although the Project’s study revealed no immediate threat to human health from any of these indicators, it clearly documented their presence in the Chesapeake and demonstrated the need to track them. This has been a pilot investigation, and these indicators offer only a small sample of potential public health indicators for the region. In the future, measures such as these may be part of a national tracking network of indicators to measure environmental progress, identify emerging hazards, shape research and strengthen the scientific basis for environmental and health policies.

“These indicators represent an important step forward in recognizing and understanding the links between the quality of the environment and public health,” said the report’s co-author, Thomas Burke, PhD, professor of Health Policy and Management and co-director of the Center for Excellence in Environmental Public Health Tracking at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The time is right to develop Environmental Public Health Indicators for the Chesapeake region. Based on this investigation, the authors present the following recommendations as next steps to develop a tracking tool for joint indicators of both ecosystem and public health:

  1. Assess information needs to assure effective coverage of the watershed and to meet the data needs of state and county health agencies and environmental officials
  2. Expand the list of indicators to include a broader range of contaminants, additional exposure pathways and improved measures of population exposure levels
  3. Enhance reporting of public health outcomes, such as waterborne and food-borne outbreaks, to assure early problem recognition and to safeguard public health
  4. Coordinate efforts with the EPA Environmental Indicators Initiative and the CDC National Environmental Public Health Tracking Network
  5. Develop a formal strategy for systematic, regular reporting of public health indicators through a public health report card for the Bay region

The Chesapeake Bay is the region’s defining natural resource. The Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators Project authors believe improved tracking of sources of pollution, exposures to pollutants and their effects on health is an essential component of an integrated approach to protecting the Bay and protecting the public’s health.

Public Affairs media contacts for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health: Tim Parsons or Kenna Lowe at 410-955-6878 or paffairs@jhsph.edu.

Contact for the Center for a Livable Future: Charles Miller at 410-502-7578 or cmiller@jhsph.edu.