Rachel's Precaution Reporter #53
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

From: Science and Environmental Health Network ...........[This story printer-friendly]
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 rpr@rachel.org. We may not be able to answer all of them, but we will try. Our goal is to establish a dialogue and learn from each other.]

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,

Thank you for your question. Communities have struggled with this problem for a long time. In fact, the history of contaminated sites like Love Canal gave rise to the precautionary principle in the United States since it was obvious that the old way of doing business had failed.

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. Using precautionary implementation strategies like setting clean up goals and evaluating the best alternative clean up methods well help prevent ongoing damage.

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


Carolyn Raffensperger is the executive director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, headquartered in Ames, Iowa.


From: Greenpeace International ...........................[This story printer-friendly]
August 25, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: "The scoring is weighted more heavily on the use of toxic substances in production rather than criteria on recycling, because until the use of harmful substances is eliminated in products, it is impossible to secure 'safe', toxic-free recycling."]

Amsterdam -- International Greenpeace today launched the 'Guide to Greener Electronics,' which ranks companies on their use of harmful chemicals and electronic waste recycling.(1) The guide will be used to create demand for toxic-free electronics which can be safely recycled, by informing consumers about company performance on these two issues. The scorecard ranks the 14 top mobile and PC producers and currently all fail to get a green ranking.

"The scorecard will provide a dynamic tool to green the electronics sector by setting off a race to the top. By taking back their discarded products, companies will have incentives to eliminate harmful substances used in their products, since this is the only way they can ensure safe reuse and recycling of electronic waste," said Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner.

Nokia and Dell share the top spot in the ranking. They believe that as producers they should bear individual responsibility for taking back and reusing or recycling their own-brand discarded products. Nokia leads the way on eliminating toxic chemicals, since the end of 2005 all new models of mobiles are free of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and all new components to be free of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from the start of 2007. Dell has also set ambitious targets for eliminating these harmful substances from their products.

Third place goes to HP, followed by Sony Ericsson (4th), Samsung (5th), Sony (6th), LG Electronics (7th), Panasonic (8th), Toshiba (9th), Fujitsu Siemens Computers (10th), Apple (11th), Acer (12th) and Motorola (13th).

Lenovo is in bottom position. It earns points for chemicals management and providing some voluntary product take back programmes, but it needs to do better on all criteria.

"It is disappointing to see Apple ranking so low in the overall guide. They are meant to be world leaders in design and marketing, they should also be world leaders in environmental innovation." said Kruszewska.

Companies have the opportunity to move towards a greener ranking as the guide will be updated every quarter. However penalty points will be deducted from overall scores if Greenpeace finds a company lying, practising double standards or other corporate misconduct. For now, companies are scored solely on information publicly available on their global websites.

The scoring is weighted more heavily on the use of toxic substances in production rather than criteria on recycling, because until the use of harmful substances is eliminated in products, it is impossible to secure 'safe', toxic-free recycling.


Notes to Editors

(1) 'Guide to Greener Electronics'

PVC explained: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic used in some electronic products and for insulation on wires and cables. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics but its production, use and disposal create toxic pollution. Chlorinated dioxins and furans are released when PVC is produced or disposed of by incineration (or simply burning). Dioxins and furans are classes of chemical compounds widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.

BFRs explained: BFRs, used in circuit board and plastic casings, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They also interfere with thyroid and oestrogen hormone systems. Exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems. TBBPA, a type of BFR used in circuit boards has been linked to neurotoxicity.

The presence of high levels of BFRs in electronics products has the potential to generate brominated dioxins and furans, when the electronic waste comes to be smelted, incinerated or burnt in the open. Dioxins and furans are classes of chemical compounds widely recognised as some of the most toxic chemicals ever made by humans and many are toxic even in very low concentrations.

The electronics scorecard ranks companies on:

1. Chemicals policy and practice (5 criteria)

2. Policy and practice on taking back discarded electronic products (ewaste) and recycling (4 criteria).

On chemicals, the criteria are:

a. A chemicals policy based on the Precautionary Principle

b. Chemicals Management: supply chain management of chemicals via e.g. banned/restricted substance lists, policy to identify problematic substances for future elimination/substitution

c. Timeline for phasing out all use of vinyl plastic (PVC)

d. Timeline for phasing out all use of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) -- not just those banned by European Union's or Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS)

e. PVC-free and BFR-free models of electronic products on the market.

On Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)/recycling:

a. Support for individual (financial) producer responsibility -- that producers finance the end-of-life management of their products, by taking back and reusing/recycling their own-brand discarded products.

b. Provides voluntary takeback and recycling in every country where it sells its products, even in the absence of national laws requiring Producer Responsibility for electronic waste.

c. Provides clear information for individual customers on takeback and recycling services in all countries where there are sales of its products.

d. Reports on amount of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collected and recycled

Further contact information for reporters to get video, photos or report details

Related Links

Greenpeace International

Contact Information Suzette Jackson Communications officer Greenpeace International +31 6 4619 7324


From: ENDS Europe DAILY ..................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: Sweden is steadily pushing toward its goal of eliminating persistent toxic chemicals from use. Others in the European Union, influenced by the chemical industry, oppose Sweden's precautionary approach.]

Sweden is pushing ahead with legislation banning many uses of the brominated flame retardant deca-BDE in the face of EU protests. The ban will enter force in January and will cover new products in sectors such as textiles, upholstery and electrical wiring. It will not affect existing EU rules on the use of deca in cars or electronic equipment.

Environment minister Lena Sommestad announced the move last week, restating Sweden's determination to "go ahead of the EU" by imposing controls on deca. A government spokesman told ENDS on Monday that the ban was "necessary and proportionate". Earlier this year European commission, the UK and France objected to the plans.

Brominated flame retardant industry group Ebfrip said the move contravened EU treaty rules on the free movement of goods. Sweden's action would either "encourage the use of less tested alternatives or drive consumer products to be less safe by increasing their flammability, [with] potentially serious implications for consumer fire safety," chairman Dieter Drohmann said.

But the restrictions will not apply to electrical and electronic goods, a sector where the use of deca is already controversial. The substance was banned in EU electronics by governments and MEPs through the restrictions on hazardous substances (RoHS) directive in 2002. The European commission then granted deca an exemption late last year.

This waiver has been challenged by Denmark and the European parliament. The EU's court of justice is now considering the case. In the meantime the commission has issued a fresh interpretation of the RoHS, suggesting that deca will in effect be banned for use in electronics anyway.

Follow-up: See Swedish environment ministry press release.


From: AzoNanotechnology ...................................[This story printer-friendly]
August 23, 2006


Analysis of the issues and principles to be faced by the medical application of nanotechnology

[Rachel's introduction: The European Union's Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies will analyze the ethical issues inherent in the medical uses of nanotechnology. This article is based on a "vision document" published by the European Commission, the EU's environmental agency. Note the emphasis on the importance of the precautionary principle.]


The ageing population, the high expectations for better quality of life and the changing lifestyle of European society call for improved, more efficient and affordable health care.

Nanotechnology can offer impressive resolutions, when applied to medical challenges like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's or Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular problems, inflammatory or infectious diseases.

Experts of the highest level from industry, research centers and academia convened to prepare the present vision regarding future research priorities in NanoMedicine. A key conclusion was the recommendation to set up a European Technology Platform on NanoMedicine designed to strengthen Europe's competitive position and improve the quality of life and health care of its citizens. This article has been extracted from the vision paper "European Technology Platform on NanoMedicine -- Nanotechnology for Health" produced by the European Commission.

Ethical Issues

Nanotechnology offers great promise for medicine, but much of this lies in the future. This future orientation has made nanotechnologies vulnerable to the current zeitgeist of over claiming in science, either the potential benefit or harm. There is a need to be careful about placing premature weight on speculative hopes or concerns about nanotechnologies raised ahead of evidence. Foresighting of breakthrough technologies is notoriously difficult, and carries the risk that early public engagement may promote either public assurance or public panic over the wrong issues.

Nanotechnology as an enabling technology for many future medical applications touches on issues such as sensitivity of genetic information, the gap between diagnosis and therapy, health care resources and tensions between holistic and functional medicine. On the other hand nanotechnology will add a new dimension to the bio (human) and non-bio (machine) interface such as brain chips or implants, which eventually might raise new ethical issues specific to NanoMedicine. This requires careful analysis of ethical aspects in view of existing standards and regulations by ethics committees at the European scale.

At the same time new nanomedical inventions have to be evaluated for new ethical aspects by ethical, legal and social aspects - specialists. The most crucial point in this regard is an early proactive analysis of new technological developments to identify and discuss possible issues as soon as possible. This requires a close collaboration and co-learning of technology developers and ethics specialists assisted by communication experts to ensure open and efficient information of the public about ethical aspects related to nanomedicine. This co-evolution will ensure a socially and ethically accepted development of innovative diagnostic and therapeutic tools in NanoMedicine.

From the above it is clear that an in-depth ethical analysis is necessary in this field. Such an analysis should be based on the following principles.

Human Dignity and the derived ethical principles of:

** Non-instrumentalisation: The ethical requirement of not using individuals merely as a means but always as an end of their own.

** Privacy: The ethical principle of not invading a person's right to privacy.

** Non-discrimination: People deserve equal treatment, unless there are reasons that justify difference in treatment. It is a widely accepted principle and in this context it primarily relates to the distribution of health care resources.

** Informed Consent: The ethical principle that patients are not exposed to treatment or research without their free and informed consent.

** Equity: The ethical principle that everybody should have fair access to the benefits under consideration.

** The Precautionary Principle: This principle entails the moral duty of continuous risk assessment with regard to the not fully foreseeable impact of new technologies as in the case of ICT implants in the human body.

The last of these principles (the Precautionary Principle) is particularly important in this particular context.

Ethical Analysis

The ethical analysis should also examine value conflicts. There could be conflict between the personal freedom to use one's economic resources to obtain advanced treatment such as NanoMedicine and what society at large considers desirable or ethically acceptable. Freedom of researchers may conflict with the obligation to safeguard the health of research subjects. Concern for economic competitiveness and other economic values (economic growth) may come into conflict with respect for human dignity. The unrestricted freedom of some may endanger the health and safety of others. Therefore a balance has to be struck between values that are all legitimate in our culture.

Source: European Commission


From: Methuselah Foundation ...............................[This story printer-friendly]
August 28, 2006


[Rachel's introduction: The Methuselah Foundation, which aims to prolong human life, says the precautionary principle will halt all progress. This is a common criticism of a precautionary approach so we should examine it carefully. Instead of the precautionary principle, they favor the proactionary principle, which was developed to justify speeding up technological innovation for the purpose of replacing humans with another form of life.]

A good example of a call for caution that would, if enacted, amount to a form of sabotage can be found amongst the essays of the Healthful Life Project. It's a good illustration of the way in which some of those who might appear at first glance to be in favor of healthy life extension are in fact putting forth a message little different from the rhetoric of the more obvious opposition:

"Surely common sense would suggest that excessive population growth is very likely to have some very unpleasant consequences, and that the health and prosperity of humankind, as well as other creatures that share the planet with us, is likely to require that population be stabilized at some reasonable level (say 10 to 12 billion persons). If that notion is accepted, then it follows that the greatest threat to achieving population stability at reasonable levels will not be a failure to control birth rates, but rather the extension of adult life span. That, in turn, invites the conclusion that the greatest threat to planetary stability is within the scientific community....

"I would suggest that we concentrate on conquering diseases and slowing the aging process so people can live out their maximal physiologic life span. That will benefit individuals; it will simultaneously challenge the global society as average life expectancy increases by 20 or 30 years, but with a reasonable amount of thought and planning, we can cope with those changes. On the other hand, we should approach changing the boundaries of aging with great caution, insisting on debating the questions I posed at the beginning of this essay and requiring that any attempt to change the boundaries in human beings be kept experimental and be accompanied by rigorous long-term assessment that includes evaluating the quality of life of these very old persons.

"In sum, my view is: Maximizing physiologic life span -- full speed ahead. Changing the boundaries of human aging -- go slow with extreme caution. The research into aging is spectacular, but the implications and potential consequences are so profound that we cannot afford to leave it solely in the hands of the scientific community. We had better figure out where we are going or we may find some unpleasant surprises when we get there."

The Malthusians are convinced that the sky will fall if people live longer or use more resources. Never mind that overpopulation through longevity seems just as unlikely to come to pass, judging by the data we have on hand: Malthusians been convinced of this for quite some time -- and proven absolutely wrong in their specific predictions time and time again. Here's a newsflash for the Malthusians: it's too late; the sky has already fallen. We are already in the midst of a disaster far greater, immediate and proven than any postulations about population on your part. What is more, you fail to understand the nature of change and are ignorant of economics; your actions will only prolong this present disaster by blocking progress.

More than 100,000 people died yesterday -- and the day before, and the day before that. More than 100,000 people will die tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that -- and forever on unless we do something. They are dying of aging, of root causes that scientists are comparatively close to understanding and addressing. It takes a particular sort of mindset to put future issues based upon an ignorant view of human action and economics in front of this present ongoing toll. Personally, I'm glad I do not think that way.

The precautionary principle is a distillation of inaction forced by excessive caution. More extreme expressions of the precautionary principle have been seized upon and promoted by all sorts of opponents of progress because they represent a halt to all progress: no advance is ever risk-free. Demanding -- and attempting to enforce -- risk free progress is one and the same with halting the engine of science and technology. Many foolish people want just this, sadly, and would condemn every living person to suffer and die from degenerative aging to achieve their ends.

Sadly, the popularity of extreme expressions of the precautionary principle obscure the high costs of adhering to even moderate versions. If you attach a ball and chain to those working on medical progress, medical progress will be slow. How can anyone advocate slowing down progress in the face of 100,000 deaths each and every day? Yet this seems to be the mainstream position; those who do not contribute to getting the work done have largely fallen down the rabbit hole of doing nothing by throwing roadblocks in the path ahead. Great job, you all -- I hope you manage to live with yourselves if scientists create working anti-aging medicine within our lifetime despite your efforts. If science is held back well enough... well, then we all age, suffer and die. Well done. Applause. A pity you won't be there to receive the gratitude of the masses -- who won't be there either.

A couple of years ago, the Proactionary Principle was proposed as an answer to all this anti-progress waffling and nonsense:

"People's freedom to innovate technologically is highly valuable, even critical, to humanity. This implies several imperatives when restrictive measures are proposed: Assess risks and opportunities according to available science, not popular perception. Account for both the costs of the restrictions themselves, and those of opportunities foregone. Favor measures that are proportionate to the probability and magnitude of impacts, and that have a high expectation value. Protect people's freedom to experiment, innovate, and progress."

I think it continues to stand as a much more sensible viewpoint. The sky has fallen, and we see tens of millions of deaths each year: we should be moving the earth and sky to do something about it.

Copyright 2003-2006 Methuselah Foundation


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


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