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Chesapeake Bay Workshop

Integrating Climate and Environmental Information with Disease Surveillance to Address Pathogens and Algal Toxins of Concern to Public Health

A CIRUN workshop, jointly sponsored by the NOAA Oceans and Human Health Initiative (OHHI) and the NOAA Climate Program Office, was held at ESSIC on February 21/22, 2012. Scientists from the ocean climate community, and public health officials from State Departments of Health and Departments of Natural Resources in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington met for two days to discuss methods of providing reliable and actionable monitoring data, forecasts and models for climate and naturally occurring aquatic biological hazards to public health officials, with a focus on dangerous vibrio and harmful alga blooms (HABs) in the Chesapeake Bay.  A companion workshop focusing on the Puget Sound was held in Seattle on March 21/22, 2012.

Recommendations for actions were made by three breakout groups, which met after an initial context-setting plenary session. Each breakout group was composed of a mix of participants from all three communities, each of which brought a distinct perspective to the workshop. This made for lively discussions in the breakout groups. Remarkably, however, when the conclusions of the three breakout groups were summarized in a final plenary session, all three identified the same principal themes. The key issues and potential actions which emerged during the workshop included:

  • The immediate need to integrate physical, biological and public health data was recognized by all breakout groups.  A widely available integrated data system would allow future projects to focus on major knowledge gaps and could assist in both industry planning and subsequent regulation of aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay.
  • The importance of increased monitoring and collection of additional data was also expressed.
  • A critical challenge recognized by the public health community was the absence of good dose-response data that would permit the translation of measured or predicted organism concentration into a measure of population risk.
  • The need to improve our understanding of the thresholds at which environmental factors (e.g. temperature, salinity, precipitation changes, nutrient loading, and land use/land cover changes) contribute to dangerous levels of toxicity was recognized as an important and resolvable issue.
  • With an integrated data system, a better understanding of significant environmental factors and the ability to produce reliable and useful forecasts for the public health community through a health early warning system becomes possible, not only on a daily to weekly basis, but also on monthly and seasonal time scales.
  • The importance of making public health authorities aware of the uncertainty in forecasts was recognized, and several pathways were suggested.

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