The Collaborative on Health and the Environment – Washington
A Partnership Network for Environmental Health
Established and Coordinated by the Institute for Children's Environmental Health
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:
- Taking anticipatory action to prevent harm in the face of scientific uncertainty.
- Exploring alternatives, includ
ing the alternative of "no action."
- Considering the full cost of environmental and health impacts over time.
- Increasing public participation in decision-making.
- 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.
For more information about this group, please contact Tracee Mayfield.
Meeting and Call Documents
Precaution Academy and Briefing, June 23-25, 2006
- Taking Precautionary Action: Roadmap for Success, resource guide from the June 9-11, 2006, conference in Baltimore, Maryland (from the besafenet.com website)
- Talking Precaution, the smartMeme talking points document (241 KB)
- Proof, causation, and scientific uncertainty: What do we do?, presentation from Ted Schettler, MD, MPH (117 KB)
- The Ethics & Values of Precaution, presentation from Ted Schettler, MD, MPH (479 KB)
- The times, they are a changin', presentation from Ted Schettler, MD, MPH (2.6 MB)
- The Precautionary Approach, wall poster from Peter Montague (22 KB)
- A Personal Report from the Baltimore Precaution Conference, from Peter Montague (52 KB)
- Getting beyond Numerical Risk Assessment, from Peter Montague (46 KB)
- Eight Reasons for Self-Reliance, from Peter Montague (17 KB)
December 8, 2005, Meeting
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