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Washington StateThe Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Washington

A Partnership Network for Environmental Health
Established and Coordinated by the Institute for Children's Environmental Health

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Precautionary Principle Working Group

Aldo Leopold stated in his book A Sand County Almanac: "A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise." The precautionary principle provides an approach to decision making to protect the human and ecological community.

The foundation of the precautionary principle can be expressed as the common-sense advice to "err on the side of caution." The principle is based on a desire to prevent harm to the environment, human health, other living creatures and ecological systems. It is intended to apply to a range of situations that involve both a threat of harm as well as scientific uncertainty.

A widely recognized definition of the precautionary principle is from the Wingspread conference: "Where threats of serious or irreversible harm to people or nature exist, anticipatory action will be taken to prevent damages to human and environmental health, even when full scientific certainty about cause and effect is not available, with the intent of safeguarding the quality of life for current and future generations."

The precautionary principle includes the following key components:

  1. Taking anticipatory action to prevent harm in the face of scientific uncertainty.
  2. Exploring alternatives, includ ing the alternative of "no action."
  3. Considering the full cost of environmental and health impacts over time.
  4. Increasing public participation in decision-making.
  5. Shifting responsibility for providing evidence of safety to proponents of an activity.

This group focuses on incorporating precautionary language in the comprehensive plans for King County and Seattle.

Contact Information

For more information about this group, please contact Tracee Mayfield.

Meeting and Call Documents

Precaution Academy and Briefing, June 23-25, 2006

Conference Calls

December 8, 2005, Meeting

Other Documents on this Site


File Size

Health Indicators Letter

16 KB

Recommendation Update

16 KB

Seattle White Paper

80 KB

Application to Seattle

28 KB

Application to King County

96 KB

European Environment Agency News Release, January 2002

112 KB

Washington State Public Health Association Resolution

34 KB

Public Health and the Precautionary Principle, trom the Spring/Summer 2005 issue of Northwest Public Health

68 KB

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