Science and Environmental Health Network, August 22, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Here we begin an occasional column by Carolyn Raffensperger, "Try this at home" -- how to apply precaution in common situations. We welcome your questions sent to We may not be able to answer all of them, but we will try.]

By Carolyn Raffensperger

Recently we received an email asking,

"Does the Precautionary Principle apply to contaminated properties that are being considered for redevelopment? I appreciate any response. Thank You." -- Olivia

Dear Olivia,

There are answers on multiple levels to your question. I will give several.

1) Contaminated sites are a good rationale for the precautionary principle -- so we don't have more contaminated sites. All that is to say, the principle works best before the contamination occurs because it is designed to prevent harm.

2) However, a contaminated site can cause future damage if left to fester. Invoking the precautionary principle to prevent future harm from inadequate or no clean up of the site is a perfectly appropriate use of the principle.

3) The precautionary principle is embedded in a large ethical position of preventing harm to future generations. Leaving a contaminated site to those to come is immoral. Therefore it is our ethical responsibility to use the precautionary principle and prevent any more harm.

Best wishes, --Carolyn