Rachel's Precaution Reporter #53

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

Wednesday, August 30, 2006...........Printer-friendly version
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Table of Contents...

Try This at Home: Can Precaution Apply to Toxic Cleanups?
  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.
Greenpeace Flunks Electronics Firms Based Partly on Precaution
  "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."
Sweden Is Moving to Ban Many Uses of the Flame Retardant, Deca
  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
Ethics and Nanomedicine
  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 Sabotage of Excessive, Wasteful Caution
  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.


From: Science and Environmental Health Network, Aug. 22, 2006
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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

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

Best wishes, --Carolyn


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

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From: Greenpeace International, Aug. 25, 2006
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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

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

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

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From: ENDS Europe DAILY, Aug. 28, 2006
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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.

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From: AzoNanotechnology, Aug. 23, 2006
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Analysis of the issues and principles to be faced by the medical
application of nanotechnology


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

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

** 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

** 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

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

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From: Methuselah Foundation, Aug. 28, 2006
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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

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

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

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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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