Rachel's Precaution Reporter #4

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

Wednesday, September 21, 2005........Printer-friendly version
www.rachel.org -- To make a secure donation, click here.

Table of Contents...

Mendocino County Supervisors Will Study Precaution
  A broad coalition of local officials and interested citizens have
  asked their county board of supervisors to consider adopting the
  precautionary principle as county policy.
Chemicals Found in Babies Heat Up the REACH Debate in Europe
  Uncertainty over the health risks of low-level chemical
  contamination may compel European lawmakers to strengthen their
  precautionary REACH proposal for chemicals policy.
Cellphones 'Should Not Be Given to Children'
  A report issued by the UK's National Radiological Protection Board
  (NRPB), a government advisory body, calls for a "precautionary
  approach" to cellphone use.
The Perils of the Precautionary Principle
  "A subjective concept such as 'the precautionary principle' is
  itself dangerous because it permits what conservative scholars have
  called 'precaution without principle.""


From: Mendocino County Public Health Advisory Board, Jun. 13, 2005
[Printer-friendly version]


In June, 2005, the 19-member Mendocino County [California] Public
Health Advisory Board (MCPHAB) unanimously agreed to request that the
County Board of Supervisors study the implementation of the
recautionary Principle and its effect on County decision-making.

The decision by the Public Health Advisory Board is the first step
towards the County's adoption of the recautionary Principle. The
Principle represents a new way of approaching decisions that affect
the environment and human health.

MCPHAB was encouraged to draft the letter to the County Board of
Supervisors after hearing an educational talk on the Precautionary
Principle given by Debbie Raphael of the San Francisco Department of
the Environment. Ms. Raphael was a key figure in San Francisco's
passage of the Precautionary Principle ordinance in 2003. A newly
formed committee made up of individuals throughout the county and
spearheaded by Environmental Commons' Britt Bailey hosted and
supported Raphael's presentation. The committee includes Doug
Hammerstrom (Ft. Bragg City Council), Greg Krouse (Sustainable
Landscaper), Dr. Marvin Trotter (Public Health Officer), David Colfax
(5th District Supervisor), Dr. Melissa Gosland (Redwood Coast Medical
Services), Dr. Alice Diefenbach (Centers for Disease Control), Doug
Mosel (Californians for GE-Free Agriculture), and Sara O'Donnell
(Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino).

"This is a truly momentous day for Mendocino County. We are on the
forefront of a new way of making decisions -- decisions that will be
better for our environment and subsequently our health," said Britt
Bailey of Environmental Commons.

According to Sara O'Donnell, MCPHAB member and Director of the Cancer
Resource Center, "We believe the time is right for our County and its
citizens to be democratically involved in choosing the best
alternative with the least potential impact on human health and the
environment. For years we have made decisions based on a traditional
type of risk assessment that tries to justify harm," and the
Precautionary Principle reverses that trend."

Greg Krouse, a sustainable landscaper and host of a toxics-related
radio program, stated, "The notion that the county could adopt the
Precautionary Principle is very exciting. I think that the greater
democracy this process affords will eliminate the loggerheads that
often accompany controversial issues."

The County will examine the possibility of implementing the
Precautionary Principle while the County's citizens will be offered
opportunities to learn more about the Principle. A key element of the
Precautionary Principle includes participatory decisions that are
transparent and democratically derived.

Get more details about the Precautionary Principle here.

Britt Bailey, Director
Environmental Commons
(707) 884 -5002

Carol Mordhorst, Director of Public Health
Mendocino County Public Health Department
(707) 472 -2777

Sara O'Donnell, Executive Director
Cancer Resource Center of Mendocino County
(707) 467 -3828

Return to Table of Contents


From: www.EurActiv.com, Sept. 14, 2005
[Printer-friendly version]



Biomonitoring involves taking samples of blood, tissue, urine or hair
to detect the presence of certain substances in the human body. The
process is currently used by environmental campaigners, lobbyists and
the EU Commission as a tool to assess human exposure to pollution and
to define health and environmental policies.

However, the lack of scientific knowledge on the paths taken by the
pollutants and their actual risk for human health is making
biomonitoring a controversial issue (for more, see EurActiv


Analysis of blood taken from 42 mothers and the umbilical cord of 27
newborn babies has revealed the presence of man-made hazardous
chemicals in every sample.

The results were published on 8 September by Greenpeace and the WWF
as part of a campaign to strengthen the REACH proposal to regulate
chemicals in the EU [European Union]. The bill is now entering a
decisive voting phase in the European Parliament.

The umbilical cords and blood were tested for eight chemicals,
including musks used in perfumes, brominated anti-flammable agents
used in textiles, a pesticide which has already been banned worldwide,
and phtalates used to soften plastic objects such as toys. The samples
were also tested for perfluorinated compounds which are used to make
non-stick frying pans and water-repelling coatings.

"The major problem [with these chemicals] is that we know virtually
nothing about their potentially adverse effects because of the way
production, marketing and use of chemicals is regulated in Europe,"
comment the WWF and Greenpeace in the study.

But they argue this is precisely why chemicals should be better
controlled and the proposed REACH regulation strengthened.

"It is shocking that such chemicals are in the human body at any stage
of our life, let alone at the very start, when the child is most
vulnerable. Governments need to act and require industries to
substitute these contaminating chemicals with safer alternatives,"
said Helen Perivier, Toxics Campaigner for Greenpeace International.

The European chemical industry council (CEFIC) says it is aware of the
societal concerns caused by chemicals and "takes its responsibility to
address it seriously".

Still, it guards against all undue alarm. "The presence of trace
amounts of a chemical substance does not necessarily constitute a
health risk and should not cause alarm," wrote CEFIC at the conclusion
of a conference on environment and health in December last year.

"We are in full compliance with environmental health and safety
rules," said CEFIC's Caroline de Bie. "When you look at the
quantities, it is really tiny," she added saying it is "very alarmist"
to communicate such test results to the greater public.

CEFIC points out to independent experts and paediatricians who agree
that "whilst trace amounts of chemicals can be detected in the blood,
there is no evidence of harm at these levels". According to CEFIC,
biomonitoring provides "a one-off measurement of the trace levels
typically found, but does not provide any information of whether the
levels vary over time or what was the source of exposure".

Dr Gavin ten Tusscher, a paediatrician quoted in the WWF/Greenpeace
study and a member of an advisory group on biomonitoring to the
European Commission agrees that there should be no immediate cause for
alarm. "I would not advise people to worry, but I would recommend that
they put pressure on policymakers to change legislation".

"The negative health effects for the average individual are so slight
that they are barely noticeable", he agrees. "But if you view them on
a population level they are frightening," he then adds.

The argument that the potentially negative health effects of trace
levels of chemicals in people's blood are still to be proved is
brushed aside by Dr. Vyvyan Howard, a toxico-pathologist at Liverpool
University, who is also quoted in the study.

Howard points to the "enormous complexity" of chemicals, saying a
given product such as a pesticide can exist in 62,000 different forms.

In this context Howard argues that pretending every compound can be
tested for safety is illusory. "We simply don't have the tools to
analyse all of them," he says. Given the high level of complexity of
exposure, he argues "we have little else to resort to other than the
precautionary principle. These pollutants should not be in the



** Biomonitoring in health & environment policy-making
** Chemicals Policy review (REACH)

Official Documents

Commission: press release -- Presence of persistent chemicals in the
human body results of Commissioner Wallstrom's blood test (6 Nov.

DG Environment: Conference Proceedings Human Biomonitoring -
Conclusions [zip file]

EU Actors' positions

WWF: Unwanted gift for life: children exposed to hazardous chemicals
before birth (8 Sept. 2005)

WWF/Greenpeace: Report -- A present for life -- Hazardous chemicals
in umbilical cord blood (8 Sept. 2005)

CEFIC: Biomonitoring and human health (Dec. 2004)

Related Documents

UK hopes to hammer out deal on chemicals in November (16 September

Two EP committees streamline EU chemicals law (15 September 2005)

MEP: Do not expect a major swing on REACH (14 September 2005)

Key lawmaker ready for compromise on REACH (13 September 2005)

Chemicals debate coming to the boil in the autumn (05 August 2005)

Email this article to a friend

Copyright EurActiv 2000-2005

Return to Table of Contents


From: New Scientist, Jan. 11, 2005
[Printer-friendly version]


By Will Knight

Recent studies suggesting cellphone radiation may pose a health hazard
have prompted UK experts to warn parents against giving mobile phones
to young children.

A report issued on Tuesday [Jan. 4, 2005] by the UK's National
Radiological Protection Board (NRPB), a government advisory body,
calls for a "precautionary approach" to cellphone use. The study
acknowledges that there is no firm evidence that cellphone radiation
is harmful but warns that the possibility also cannot be ruled out.

"I don't think we can put our hands on our hearts and say mobile
phones are safe," said Sir William Stewart, chairman of the NRPB, at a
press conference in London on Tuesday.

The NRPB report repeats concerns first raised in an influential study
into cellphone health affects published in 2000 by the Independent
Expert Group on Mobile Phones, also set up by the UK government and
led by William Stewart. However, the new report adds that scientific
research published since 2000 provides fresh evidence that cellphone
radiation may be harmful to users. DNA damage

This research includes a European study published in December 2004
indicating that radiation from cellphones may damage DNA, a Swedish
study from April 2004 showing a correlation between mobile phone use
and auditory nerve tumours and Dutch research from October 2003,
linking cellphones to impaired brain function.

But the NPRB report says these studies must be replicated by other
research laboratories before any conclusion can be reached.

Zenon Sienkiewicz, principle scientist at NRPB, notes that
complicating factors will also have to be investigated, such as
whether some people are more susceptible to cellphone radiation than
others. "All we're saying in the report is let's not close our minds,"
he told New Scientist.

Stewart says parents should not give cellphones to children under nine
years old because they may be particularly susceptible to any ill
effects of cellphone radiation. This is because they have smaller
heads, meaning the radiation can affect a greater part of their brain,
and less fully developed nervous systems.

Service suspended

"If there are risks -- and we think that maybe there are -- then the
people who are going to be most affected are children, and the younger
the children, the greater the danger," Stewart said.

Shortly after the report was published, UK company Commun8, which
launched a mobile phone service aimed at children, announced that it
would suspend operations.

But other representatives of the industry took a positive view of the
report. "The key point of the NRPB advice is that there is no hard
information linking the use of mobile telephony with adverse health
effects," said Mike Dolan executive director of the UK Mobile
Operators Association.

The NPRB report also recommends that older children and adults
consider limiting their phone use and sending text messages instead of
making voice calls whenever possible.

The rate of cellphone development is another cause for worry,
according to the report. Third generation (3G) phones typically
produce more radiation than older handsets, but there have been few
studies of the health effects of these devices specifically. The board
also said further research should be carried out into the effects of
wireless networking technology such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Related articles:

Cellphones May Boost Forces on Biological Tissue

3G Base Stations May Cause Headaches

Cancer cell study revives cellphone safety fears

Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information Limited

Return to Table of Contents


From: The Heritage Foundation, Jan. 15, 2004
[Printer-friendly version]


Lessons from the American and European Experience

Heritage Lecture #818

By John D. Graham, Ph.D.

The concept of a universal precautionary principle apparently has its
origins in early German and Swedish thinking about environmental
policy, particularly the need for policymakers to practice foresight
in order to prevent long-range environmental problems. The concept was
included in the Amsterdam Treaty--an important step toward
establishment of the European Union--but the concept was left
undefined and was applied only to environmental policy. In the past 20
years, there have been numerous references to precaution in various
international treaties, statements of advocacy groups, and academic
writings, but the significance of the principle in international law
remains uncertain.

In recent years there has been growing international interest in the
subject of precaution. Reacting to criticism that the principle was
too ambiguous, the European Commission in 2000 issued a formal
"Communication" about the precautionary principle. This Communication
extended the applicability of the principle to public health and
consumer protection as well as environmental policy. For several
years, the German Marshall Fund has been working with Duke University
to sponsor several informal dialogue sessions involving governmental
officials and academics from Europe and the USA. Several months ago,
the Canadian government released a "Framework" document for the
application of precaution in science-based decisions about risk.

The United States government believes it is important to understand
that, notwithstanding the rhetoric of our European colleagues, there
is no such thing as the precautionary principle. Indeed, the Swedish
philosopher Sandin has documented 19 versions of the precautionary
principle in various treaties, laws, and academic writings. Although
these versions are similar in some respects, they have major
differences in terms of how uncertain science is evaluated, how the
severity of consequences is considered, and how the costs and risks of
precautionary measures are considered. The United States government
believes that precaution is a sensible idea, but there are multiple
approaches to implementing precaution in risk management.
Defining the Principle

Given the ambiguity about the precautionary principle, it may be
useful to start with a dictionary definition. Webster's 2nd Edition of
the New World Dictionary defines precaution as "care taken beforehand"
or "a measure taken beforehand against possible danger." Understood in
this way, precaution is a well-respected notion that is practiced
daily in the stock market, in medicine, on the highway, and in the
workplace. In both business and politics, decision makers seek the
right balance between taking risks and behaving in a precautionary

Before joining the Office of Management and Budget, I served for 17
years on the faculty of the Harvard School of Public Health. In that
capacity I learned that public health historians have documented the
preventable pain and suffering that can occur from insufficient
consideration of the need for precaution. In the United States we felt
that pain as a result of how we handled emerging science about
tobacco, lead, and asbestos. Historians teach us that the major health
problems from these substances could have been reduced or prevented
altogether if decision makers had reacted to early scientific
indications of harm in a precautionary manner.

We should not belittle the scientific complexities in each of these
examples. Take the link between smoking and lung cancer. Although this
link now seems obvious, in the middle of the previous century the link
was not obvious to many competent and thoughtful physicians. They knew
that many lifetime smokers never developed lung cancer; they also knew
that some lung cancer patients had never been smokers. Compounding the
problem was the inability of laboratory scientists to produce lung
tumors in laboratory animals exposed by inhalation. In the final
analysis, it took large-scale statistical studies of smokers to
resolve the issue. In fact, there was a large scale study of the
health of British physicians that played an important role in building
the medical consensus against smoking.

In each of these examples (tobacco, lead, and asbestos), it was
epidemiology rather than the experimental sciences that played the
most pivotal role in identifying health risks. Ironically, it is
epidemiology that is now one of the more controversial contributors to
public health science.
Exaggerated Claims of Hazard

There is no question that postulated hazards sometimes prove more
serious and/or widespread than originally anticipated. Ralph Nader has
previously argued that this is the norm in regulatory science, while
the European Commission recently issued a report of case studies where
hazards appear to have been underestimated. However, the dynamics of
science are not so easily predicted. Sometimes claims of hazard prove
to be exaggerated, and in fact there are cases of predictions of doom
that have simply not materialized.

Consider the "dismal theorem" of the Reverend Thomas Malthus (1798).
He hypothesized that population would grow exponentially while sources
of sustenance would only grow arithmetically. The result, he
predicted, would be that living standards would fail to rise beyond
subsistence levels. However, history has shown this theorem to be
incorrect. Malthus did not foresee the technological advances that
have allowed both population and standard of living to rise steadily
and substantially.

A more recent example in the USA concerns the popular artificial
sweetener saccharine. The Food and Drug Administration declared the
regulatory equivalent of war against this product on the basis of
experimental laboratory test results. The finding was that huge doses
of saccharine cause bladder cancer in rodents. While the FDA attempted
to ban saccharine based on this evidence, the U.S. Congress overturned
the FDA's action. With the benefit of hindsight, it now appears that
the FDA's attempted ban may have been poorly grounded in science. Just
recently, the federal government in the USA removed saccharine from
the official list of "carcinogens" for two reasons: experimental
biologists have found that saccharin causes bladder tumors in rodents
through a mechanism (cell proliferation) that is unlikely to be
relevant to low-dose human exposures; and large-scale epidemiological
studies of saccharine users have found no evidence that the product is
linked to excess rates of bladder cancer in people.

Students of risk science are aware that the number of alleged hazards
far exceeds the number that are ever proven based on sound science.
Consider the following scares: electric power lines and childhood
leukemia, silicone breast implants and auto-immune disorders, cell
phones and brain cancer, and disruption of the endocrine system of the
body from multiple, low-dose exposures to industrial chemicals. In
each of these cases, early studies that suggested danger were not
replicated in subsequent studies performed by qualified scientists.
Efforts at replication or verification were simply not successful. At
the same time, when early studies are replicated by independent work,
such as occurred with the acute mortality events following exposure to
fine particles in the air, it is important for public health
regulators to take this information seriously in their regulatory

Given that the dynamics of science are not predictable, it is
important to consider the dangers of excessive precaution. One of
those is the threat to technological innovation. Imagine it is 1850
and the following version of the precautionary principle is adopted:
No innovation shall be approved for use until it is proven safe, with
the burden of proving safety placed on the technologist. Under this
system, what would have happened to electricity, the internal
combustion engine, plastics, pharmaceuticals, the Internet, the cell
phone and so forth? By its very nature, technological innovation
occurs through a process of trial-and-error and refinement, and this
process could be disrupted by an inflexible version of the
precautionary principle.

Many risk specialists in the USA regret some of the prior policy steps
we have taken on the basis of precaution. In U.S. energy policy, for
example, the Three Mile Island incident had a large policy impact,
though even today there is no evidence of significant public health
harm caused by the accident at Three Mile Island. In fact, there has
been a de facto moratorium on the construction of new nuclear power
plants in the USA. We have become more deeply dependent on fossil
fuels for energy, and now precaution is being invoked as a reason to
enact stricter rules on use of fossil fuels. Part of the answer may
rest with clean coal technologies and renewable energy, but we should
not foreclose the advanced nuclear option. Recent Progress in Europe

In comparing the actions of different countries and regions, it is
important to avoid the fallacy that Europe is precautionary while the
USA is not. The late Aaron Wildavsky, in his studies of risk
regulation, observed that cultures engage in risk selection. Some have
argued that the USA is more tolerant than Europe of the possible risks
of bioengineered foods, global climate change, and industrial chemical
exposures. However, a fair analysis would also show that Europe has
been less precautionary than the USA on diesel engine exhaust,
environmental tobacco smoke, and lead in gasoline. In fact, the recent
comparative research by Professor Jonathan Wiener of Duke University
has found no evidence to support the popular myth that Europe is
generally more precautionary than the USA.

A subjective concept such as "the precautionary principle" is itself
dangerous because it permits what conservative scholars have called
"precaution without principle." In particular, the principle may be
easily manipulated by commercial interests for rent-seeking purposes.
According to Conko and Miller, students of biotech policy, the EU
policy on genetically modified organisms "creates a bizarre
bureaucratic distinction that favors certain classes of products
widely made in Europe." This practice is hardly new. That is precisely
what the World Trade Organization found in its earlier decision
against the EU ban on hormone-treated beef, a ban that had no
grounding in public health science.

Although there are many reasons to be skeptical about Europe's stance
on precaution, there are recent signs of progress from Europe. Take
the response of Brussels to "mad cow's disease." Once the British
government and industry had taken all reasonable steps to address this
problem, Brussels instructed member states of the EU to lift their
bans on beef imports from the UK. All member states complied except
France, which argued that French beef might still be safer than
British beef and that France has the right to invoke the precautionary
principle. Brussels took France to the European Court of Justice,
where the Court ruled against France, indicating that speculative
appeals to the precautionary principle must have some grounding in

Much more recently, the European Commission has rejected an
unauthorized use of the precautionary principle by the provincial
government of Upper Austria. In March of this year Austria notified
Brussels of its proposed ban of genetically modified seeds that the EC
had approved for cultivation under the EC Directive 90/220. Upper
Austria appealed to the precautionary principle but Brussels overruled
them: "Recourse to the precautionary principle presupposes that
potentially dangerous effects... have been identified, and that
scientific evaluation does not allow the risk to be determined with
sufficient certainty." The EC noted that Upper Austria had not made
this case and there was certainly nothing unique about the safety of
genetically modified seeds in Upper Austria.

While it is fashionable to criticize Europe on the subject of
precaution, and much of that criticism is deserved, it should also be
noted that the EC's official views on precaution are becoming more
nuanced. In the February 2000 Communication, for example, we found the
following views that are similar to the perspective of the U.S.

1. Precaution is a necessary and useful concept but it is subjective
and susceptible to abuse by policymakers for trade purposes.
2. Scientific and procedural safeguards need to be applied to risk
management decisions based on precaution.
3. Adoption of precautionary measures should be preceded by objective
scientific evaluations, including risk assessment and benefit-cost
analysis of alternative measures.
4. There are a broad range of precautionary measures, including bans,
product restrictions, education, warning labels, and market-based
approaches. Even targeted research programs to better understand a
hazard are a precautionary measure.
5. Opportunities for public participation--to discuss efficiency,
fairness and other public values--are critical to sound risk

In OMB's 2003 Report to Congress on the Costs and Benefits of
Regulation, we also emphasize the important role that analytic tools
have in informing regulatory judgments about precaution. There are
offshoots of cost-benefit analysis called value-of-information
analysis and decision analysis that were designed precisely for the
purpose of analyzing problems with large degrees of scientific
uncertainty. These tools are already widely used in engineering and
business and are increasingly applied to environmental issues. We urge
readers to consult OMB's report for references to this growing
analytic literature on precautionary regulation.

In summary, there are two major perils associated with an extreme
approach to precaution. One is that technological innovation will be
stifled, and we all recognize that innovation has played a major role
in economic progress throughout the world. A second peril, more
subtle, is that public health and the environment would be harmed as
the energies of regulators and the regulated community would be
diverted from known or plausible hazards to speculative and ill-
founded ones. For these reasons, please do not be surprised if the
U.S. government continues to take a precautionary approach to calls
for adoption of a universal precautionary principle in regulatory

John D. Graham, Ph.D., is Administrator of the Office of Information
and Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

The Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002-4999
phone -- 202.546.4400
fax -- 202.546.8328
e-mail -- staff@heritage.org

Copyright 1995 -- 2005 The Heritage Foundation

Return to Table of Contents


  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.

  Peter Montague - peter@rachel.org
  Tim Montague   -   tim@rachel.org

  To start your own free Email subscription to Rachel's Precaution
  Reporter send a blank Email to one of these addresses:

  Full HTML edition: join-rpr-html@gselist.org
  Table of Contents edition: join-rpr-toc@gselist.org

  In response, you will receive an Email asking you to confirm that
  you want to subscribe.

Environmental Research Foundation
P.O. Box 160, New Brunswick, N.J. 08903