To elevate Chesapeake Bay restoration to the level of public attention that it needs and deserves, we must reconnect the protection of the Bay to the protection of human health.

These issues are intimately connected, and we only need to point quickly to the declining quality of our drinking water, advisories for fish consumption and increasing asthma rates from air pollution to name just a few.

Protecting the health of our families resonates with everyone and serves as an important driver in crafting environmental protection policy that works for the Bay.

At last month’s Inaugural National Conference on Coastal and Estuarine Habitat Restoration in Baltimore, Dr. Alfred Sommer, dean of the School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and I called upon policy makers, business leaders and environmental researchers to develop new public health indicators that more closely connect impacts to human health with impacts to the environment.

Sommer, one of our country’s foremost authorities on public health, is working with his team of Hopkins scientists and CBF scientists on an initiative that will help this endeavor—the Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators project. The regional pilot project is developing tools for tracking the human health impacts of environmental degradation throughout the Bay’s 64,000-square-mile watershed.

The project examines pollutants that could possibly serve as indicators of risks to both the environment and public health. Examples in the watershed include the chemical contamination of drinking water from trihalomethanes (a family of chemicals related to the amount of organic material in water and the chlorine used to treat it), fecal contamination in beaches and urban waterways, and mercury and PCB contaminant pollution in fish.

Sommer’s team is charged with changing the framework for thinking about human health issues that directly relate to ecological factors. They will develop a template of indicators that could be used to generate a report similar to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s annual Bay report card, State of the Bay.

Environmental pollution is a precursor to compromising public health. The CBF’s State of the Bay report has helped to raise awareness and understanding of the fragility of the Bay’s health and the importance of addressing the pollution that is causing its decline.

Without a doubt, there is a need to develop an equivalent public health tool for tracking the human health impacts of environmental degradation throughout the watershed.

The Bay Health Indicators Project is the first step in establishing a system to monitor environmental risks to human health in and around the Chesapeake Bay. To learn more about the Hopkins/CBF Chesapeake Bay Health Indicators project, call CBF Maryland Senior Scientist Kim Coble at 410-268-8816.