Rachel's Precaution Reporter #3

"Foresight and Precaution, in the News and in the World"

Wednesday, September 14, 2005........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

European Union Re-Endorses the Precautionary Principle
  "Where there is scientific uncertainty, implement evaluation
  procedures and take appropriate preventive action in order to avoid
  damage to human health or to the environment."
European Union Bans Phthalates in Toys
  The ban has had mixed reactions. Consumer organisations and NGOs
  are relieved while the toy industry points to a 'misuse of the
  precautionary principle."
Newborns Have Dangerous Chemicals in Their Blood
  Weil and Mazur aren't alarmists. But they both support the ban-
  first, study-it-later "precautionary principle," adopted in some
  countries in Europe.... In the United States, it's the opposite
  scenario: science has to first prove something is harmful before it is
Can Too Much Safety Be Hazardous?
  "There are at least two reasons why the precautionary principle
  itself, when applied in its extreme, is a hazard, both to our health
  and our high standard of living."


From: Council of the European Union, Jun. 18, 2005
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[RPR introduction: The Council of the European Union (the main
decision-making body of the EU) met for two days in Brussels June
16-17, 2005, and issued a 41-page document titled, "Presidency
Conclusions (10255/05)," which is available in PDF format here.
Among other decisions, the Council adopted a "Declaration of Guiding
Principles for Sustainable Development, reprinted below, which
includes an endorsement, or re-endorsement, of the precautionary



Sustainable development is a key objective set out in the Treaty, for
all European Community policies. It aims at the continuous improvement
of the quality of life on earth of both current and future
generations. It is about safeguarding the earth's capacity to support
life in all its diversity. It is based on the principles of democracy
and the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights including
freedom and equal opportunities for all. It brings about solidarity
within and between generations. It seeks to promote a dynamic economy
with full employment and a high level of education, health protection,
social and territorial cohesion and environmental protection in a
peaceful and secure world, respecting cultural diversity.

To achieve these aims in Europe and globally, the European Union and
its Member States are committed to pursue and respect, on their own
and with partners, the following objectives and principles:

Key objectives


Safeguard the earth's capacity to support life in all its diversity,
respect the limits of the planet's natural resources and ensure a high
level of protection and improvement of the quality of the environment.
Prevent and reduce environmental pollution and promote sustainable
production and consumption to break the link between economic growth
and environmental degradation.


Promote a democratic, socially inclusive, cohesive, healthy, safe and
just society with respect for fundamental rights and cultural
diversity that creates equal opportunities and combats discrimination
in all its forms.


Promote a prosperous, innovative, knowledge-rich, competitive and
eco-efficient economy which provides high living standards and full
and high-quality employment throughout the European Union.


Encourage the establishment and defend the stability of democratic
institutions across the world, based on peace, security and freedom.
Actively promote sustainable development worldwide and ensure that the
European Union's internal and external policies are consistent with
global sustainable development and its international commitments.

Policy guiding principles


Place human beings at the centre of the European Union's policies, by
promoting fundamental rights, by combating all forms of discrimination
and contributing to the reduction of poverty and the elimination of
social exclusion worldwide.


Address the needs of current generations without compromising the
ability of future generations to meet their needs in the European
Union and elsewhere.


Guarantee citizens' rights of access to information and ensure access
to justice. Develop adequate consultation and participatory channels
for all interested parties and associations.


Enhance the participation of citizens in decision-making. Promote
education and public awareness of sustainable development. Inform
citizens about their impact on the environment and their options for
making more sustainable choices.


Enhance the social dialogue, corporate social responsibility and
private-public partnerships to foster cooperation and common
responsibilities to achieve sustainable production and consumption.


Promote coherence between all European Union policies and coherence
between local, regional, national and global actions in order to
enhance their contribution to sustainable development.


Promote integration of economic, social and environmental
considerations so that they are coherent and mutually reinforce each
other by making full use of instruments for better regulation, such as
balanced impact assessment and stakeholder consultations.


Ensure that policies are developed, assessed and implemented on the
basis of the best available knowledge and that they are economically
sound and cost-effective.


Where there is scientific uncertainty, implement evaluation procedures
and take appropriate preventive action in order to avoid damage to
human health or to the environment.


Ensure that prices reflect the real costs to society of production and
consumption activities and that polluters pay for the damage they
cause to human health and the environment.

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From: Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, Jul. 14, 2005
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Phthalates are widely used chemicals (clothes, PVC building materials,
medical products, cosmetics, toys, child care articles, food
packaging). In toys, they are used to soften the PVC plastics certain
toys are made of.

Phthalates are believed to be harmful to human health, causing damage
to the reproductive system and increasing the risks of allergies,
asthma and cancer. Phthalates have been temporarily banned [in the
European Union] since 1990, the ban being regularly renewed.

The situation has led to the emergence of different national policies,
thereby potentially undermining the functioning of the internal

Based on the precautionary principle, the [European] Parliament has
voted by an overwhelming majority (487 in favour, 9 against and 10
abstentions) to ban the use of three and restrict the use of another
three chemicals in plastic toys and childcare articles, without age-
limitations. "Toxic chemicals have no place in children's toys,"
commented Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner Markos

Under the new directive: three phthalates -- DEHP, DBP and BBP -- will
be banned in all toys and childcare articles; three others -- DINP,
DIDP and DNOP -- will be banned from use in toys and childcare
articles for those articles that can be put children's mouths.

The Commission will prepare guidelines to facilitate the
implementation of these new provisions on the restrictions in toys and
childcare articles insofar as they concern the condition "which can be
placed in the mouth by children".

To read more: http://www.euractiv.com

Copyright 2004/2005 IEMA

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From: Newsweek, Jul. 26, 2005
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New research reveals that children -- and even newborns -- have
dangerous chemicals in their blood. What parents can do to protect
their kids.

By Martha Brant, Newsweek

July 26 -- Doctors once thought that the placenta would shield a fetus
from harmful chemicals and pollutants. But new research shows that may
not be the case. A study published this month by the Environmental
Working Group (EWG), an advocacy group based in Washington DC, found
traces of 287 chemicals in the umbilical cord blood of 10 infants.
They included mercury, pesticides and the chemicals used in stain-
resistant coating and fire-retardant foam. The findings prompted
concerns since children's smaller brains, developing organs and more
porous brains put them more at risk from such toxins than adults. "A
child's brain is very vulnerable and developing very rapidly in utero
and during the first two years of life," says Jane Houlihan, co-author
of the study.

While former threats like smallpox and polio are now under control,
conditions like autism and asthma are on the rise. Autism rates are up
tenfold, asthma cases have doubled and incidences of childhood cancers
like leukemia and brain cancer are also high. No one has pinpointed
the cause of the increases yet. But reports like this one may leave
many parents feeling like they need a PhD in chemistry just to keep
their children healthy in an unhealthy, even toxic, world. The EWG
study detected perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), for example, in all 10
of the newborns' blood at a range of 3.37 to 10.7 parts per billion.
It's not clear whether chemicals at this ratio can cause cancer or
birth defects or precisely what, if any, levels would be safe in such
a young population, but these levels are certainly not naturally
occurring. The samples also contained up to 14,200 parts per trillion
of polybrominate dephenyl ethers (PBDEs), which have been linked to
brain and thyroid development problems.

The sample of cord blood in the EWG study is too small to be
conclusive. (There are not many studies of cord blood because it is
hard to get and expensive to test.) But the findings got some support
from a comprehensive study of chemicals in Americans' bodies done by
the Centers for Disease Control. The report, which came out last week,
involved tests of some 2,400 people aged six or older for 62 of the
same chemicals, as well as 86 not included in the EWG report. Though
levels of lead in children had decreased from previous studies, the
report also found some doses of some chemicals in children, including
DDE (an industrial pesticide) and phthalates, which are found in nail
polish and some plastic toys.

Dr. Lynnette Mazur, who is on the American Academy of Pediatrics
environmental health committee, acknowledges that all these studies
can be very confusing to parents. "There are a lot of huge names and
all these numbers next to them, but there is no clinical correlation
with these numbers." In other words, kids aren't showing up at her
office in Houston with obvious effects from pesticide poisoning. But
she notes that it takes science awhile to figure out what's going on.
"And by then it's usually too late," she says.

That was the case in the coastal town of Minimata in Japan, where
residents in the 1940s and 1950s unwittingly ate seafood that had been
contaminated with mercury compounds dumped into the bay by a local
chemical company. In the early 1950s, residents began suffering brain
damage and neurological effects. But it was not until 1959 that
researchers realized the victims were suffering the effects of mercury
poisoning, and the connection was made to the contaminated seafood and
the company that had dumped the waste.

The mercury found in the infants' blood in the EWG report was not
nearly as concentrated as the levels found in Minimata residents. But
doctors have long been worrisome about its effects. Pregnant women--
and toddlers--are now routinely advised to avoid fish with potentially
high mercury content like swordfish, shark and tilefish. These large
fish eat little fish that eat the algae that may be contaminated by
pollution. Dr. William Weil, who serves on the American Academy of
Pediatrician's Committee on Environmental Health, says he would also
put tuna steaks on the list of fish to avoid. Some fish, he says, also
accumulate PCBs--industrial pollutants also found in the EWG study--in
their fat, but, "the inexpensive canned tuna kids eat is probably

Weil and Mazur aren't alarmists. But they both support the ban-first,
study-it-later "precautionary principle," adopted in some countries in
Europe when there are any questions about the safety of a chemical. In
the United States, it's the opposite scenario: science has to first
prove something is harmful before it is banned. The European
Parliament, for example, recently banned phthalates. But the Toy
Industry Association in the United States scoffed at that move since
it says that the risk of phthalates is still being studied. Weil isn't
worried about pregnant women using nail polish, but he's concerned
about pesticides--especially those used to treat lawns and parks where
kids play. "Live with a few dandelions," he says. He also recommends
frequent hand washing. The average two-year-old puts his hands in his
mouth nine times an hour, according to Environmental Protection Agency

The good news, and there is some, is that both PCB and lead levels are
going down in all age groups. In fact, another study released last
week by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics
found that lead levels in children 1 to 5 years old had declined 89
percent since the mid 1970s, when the government took lead out of
gasoline after it was found to lower IQs (though lead paint remains a
worry). PCBs were also banned in the 1970s, but they linger in the
environment for decades. As PCBs are waning, however, PBDEs and PFCs
are taking their place and again showed up in the cord blood samples.
The first is the chemical in fire retardants; they're often used in
furniture foam, for example. So Houlihan recommends that parents
should immediately fix any rips that expose the foam. The second is
used in stain-resistant clothing and plastic food containers. To
avoid the chemicals, Houlihan suggests parents buy clothes that get
dirty and avoid heating food in plastic containers in the microwave.
"All this information can seem overwhelming, but there are some simple
things that parents can do," she says.

Copyright 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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From: American Council on Science and Health, May 23, 2000
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A Critical Look at the "Precautionary Principle"

By Elizabeth M. Whelan, Sc.D., M.P.H.

[Elizabeth Whelan is director of the American Council on Science
and Health.]

A recent issue of the journal "Science" focused on the dilemma posed
by the so-called "precautionary principle," which has become enshrined
in many international environmental treaties and regulations. The
greatest source of controversy about the precautionary principle is
its definition.

Our first introduction to the precautionary principle may have come
from our mothers who told us it was better to be "safe rather than
sorry", meaning we should buckle our seatbelts and throw out the left
over food we forgot to refrigerate the night before.

In these cases -- while there was no certainty that there was imminent
risk to life and health -- such caution made sense, because there was
real potential for risk. Unfortunately, there are other definitions of
the precautionary principle which are not so benign.

In the worse case scenario of the application of the precautionary
principle, advocates have recommended discarding a useful form of
technology, for example pesticides or pharmaceuticals, even if there
is just a hint of a problem For example, there are those who have
recommended that a basic, health-enhancing chemical like chlorine be
banned because of its questionable adverse effects on wildlife -- or
effect in high dose laboratory animal experiments.

There are, however, at least two reasons why the precautionary
principle itself, when applied in its extreme, is a hazard, both to
our health and our high standard of living.

First, if we act on all the remote possibilities in identifying causes
of human disease, we will have less time, less money and fewer general
resources left to deal with the real public health problems which
confront us. This does not mean that before we take prudent action to
protect public health we have to dot every scientific "i" and cross
every environmental "t". It does mean that we should not let the
distraction of purely hypothetical threats cause us to lose sight of
the known or highly probable ones.

Second, the precautionary principle assumes that no detriment to
health or the environment will result from the proposed new banning or
chemical regulation. For example, what are the known health risks from
the current regulated use of chlorine? None. How great are the
benefits? Enormous. What new health risks wold we encounter if we were
to ban chlorinated compounds because they "might" be harmful? Plenty.

Chlorine, for example, is the essential cornerstone of modern
industrial chemistry. We need chlorine to disinfect our nation's water
supply, make the agricultural pesticides that enable us to have a food
supply rich in cancer-fighting fruits and vegetables, and to produce
lifesaving pharmaceuticals.

When we apply the precautionary principle and focus on hypothetical
risks and ponder what actions we might take "just in case", we leave
the world of science and enter the realm of ideology. We allow
ourselves to come under the spell of those who are motivated , for
whatever reason, by a desire to return to what they perceive as a pre-
industrial Garden of Eden.

These "what if" ideologues need to be reminded that wealth and
industrial progress are associated with better, not worse health.
Blanket applications of the precautionary principle ultimately would
mean rejecting the modern technologies that have given us our enviable
state of good health and longevity, and the freedom to enjoy it.

So what is to be done with those instances in which the risks are
hypothetical and the costs of eliminating the technology substantial
in terms of costs and lost human benefits? What should we do when
confronted with the radical version of the precautionary principle? Go
back to what Mom said: "When in doubt, throw it out".

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  Rachel's Precaution Reporter offers news, views and practical
  examples of the Precautionary Principle, or Foresight Principle, in
  action. The Precautionary Principle is a modern way of making
  decisions, to minimize harm. Rachel's Precaution Reporter tries to
  answer such questions as, Why do we need the precautionary
  principle? Who is using precaution? Who is opposing precaution?

  We often include attacks on the precautionary principle because we  
  believe it is essential for advocates of precaution to know what
  their adversaries are saying, just as abolitionists in 1830 needed
  to know the arguments used by slaveholders.

  Rachel's Precaution Reporter is published as often as necessary to
  provide readers with up-to-date coverage of the subject.

  As you come across stories that illustrate the precautionary 
  principle -- or the need for the precautionary principle -- 
  please Email them to us at rpr@rachel.org.

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