Precautionary principle a must when talking about sustainable development

Speaking in Paris, David Gee of the European Environment Agency announced that the second edition of his important book on the precautionary approach would be available in spring 2010. It would include the following examples of the need to use the precautionary approach: BPA, nanotechnology, lead in petrol, mercury in the Mimamata disaster, GMOs, and EMFs amongst others.

The original version of ‘Late lessons from early warnings: the precautionary principle 1896-2000’ (pictured here) is available in English, French, German and Spanish.

Gee said that the dilemma in environmental health was ‘to know and not to know’ and ‘to act and not to act’. He emphasised the need for scientific expertise to be as free of financial and legal control as possible and said that decisions should be taken on the basis of the strength of evidence (as in legal cases) and on the relative importance of being wrong.

He said that the multicausality of a medical condition, such as cancer for example, could lead to what seemed to be conflicting research results. This would tend to make scientists cautious about taking a stand. However, he felt that acceptance was growing that more co-founders are actually co-factors. Multicausality also meant that removing one of the contributory factors, such as exposure to traffic air pollution in a child at risk of asthma, could break the chain.

On nanotechnology, Gee said research into the technological applications was ten times higher than that invested in assessments of health and environmental risks. He saw this as short-sighted in securing the future of this technology.


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