Rachel's Precaution Reporter #65  [Printer-friendly version]
November 22, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Seattle toxicologist Steve Gilbert has
developed a new way to make decisions about toxic chemicals,
incorporating the precautionary principle.]

Steve Gilbert is one of those rare, gifted scientists who can talk
about complicated subjects in a way that everyone can understand. His
book, A Small Dose of Toxicology; The Health Effects of Common
Chemicals is a masterpiece of good science writing, and his web
site is a treasure trove of understandable information about
chemicals and health.

Steve was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Seattle
Working Group on the Precautionary Principle, which has convinced the
city to add precautionary language to the City Plan and introduced a
precaution resolution that was adopted by the Washington State
Public Health Association.

In his work as a toxicologist, Steve has observed the shortcomings of
numerical risk assessment as a decision-making tool, and recently he
has developed a new tool for making decisions about toxic materials.
He calls it "precautionary assessment." Steve's full explanation of
precautionary assessment is available here, accompanied by an Excel
spreadsheet, found here.

Steve says, "The goal of precautionary assessment (PA) is to move
beyond risk assessment and allow communities and individuals to
incorporate their knowledge, values and ethics into a more
comprehensive evaluation of a hazardous condition.

"Precautionary assessment contains three basic elements:

"a) community and social issues,

"b) exposure issues, and

"c) hazard and toxicity issues.

"Each element is broken down into a series of questions that are
scored numerically and summed to produce a summary score for each
element. A lack of knowledge usually is indicated by applying the
highest score.

"The PA is designed to help place the knowledge available within the
context of the community. In contrast to the traditional risk
assessment, the PA is a more comprehensive approach to evaluating the
human and environmental health risks. Overall, the PA, by building
upon the foundation of the precautionary principle, is a more
reasonable, rational, and responsible approach to evaluating
environmental and human health risks of chemicals."

Take a look, give it a try, and tell Steve what you think: