Implications of the Precautionary Principle in research and policy-making

Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense C, Denmark.
American Journal of Industrial Medicine (Impact Factor: 1.59). 04/2004; 45(4):382-5. DOI: 10.1002/ajim.10361
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT The Precautionary Principle (PP) has recently been formally introduced into national and international law. The key element is the justification for acting in the face of uncertainty. The PP is thereby a tool for avoiding possible future harm associated with suspected, but not conclusive, environmental risks. Under the PP, the burden of proof is shifted from demonstrating the presence of risk to demonstrating the absence of risk and it is the responsibility of the producer of a technology to demonstrate its safety rather than the responsibility of public authorities to show harm. Past experiences show the costly consequences of disregarding early warnings about environmental hazards. Today, the need for applying the PP is even greater. New research is needed to expand current insight into disease causation, to elucidate the full scope of potential adverse implications resulting from environmental pollutants, and to identify opportunities for prevention. Research approaches should be developed and strengthened to counteract innate ideological biases and to support our confidence in applying the PP for decision-making in the public policy arena.

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    ABSTRACT: In the UK, incinerators are still seen as a satisfactory answer to the problem of getting rid of the increasing quantities of waste, including increasing amounts of synthetics. This report examines the scientific evidence from all sources concerning the health implications of waste incineration, and its costs, explicit and hidden. The report reviews what is known about the range of pollutants released by incinerators and their health effects. The major air pollutants are fine airborne particulates (2.5 µm diameter and smaller), toxic metals, and organic chemicals. The precise content of the emissions varies with the material incinerated: emitted chemicals include persistent organic pollutants, hormone disrupters, and carcinogens, but not all the organic components have been identified. In addition, the ash produced includes large quantities of highly toxic fine fly ash (air pollution control residues), which pose important long‐term health risks. Dangers from chemicals have been overlooked in the past: chemicals such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were regarded as safe on introduction, but were banned many years later because of widespread ill‐effects. Incineration is a source of emission of heavy metals and these have a range of harmful health effects. In the last 10 years, the health dangers of another major incinerator emission, fine particulates, have become widely recognized. These are associated with an increased incidence of lung cancer, but also with a linear increase in mortality (with no safe level), particularly from cardiovascular causes. Fine particulates are inspired deep into the lungs and carry other toxins, adsorbed to them, into the blood stream. Increased adult lung cancer and all cancers have been found in the vicinity of incinerators: the peak seems to occur at least 14 years after incinerator start‐up. There have been no direct studies of the incidence of cardiac illnesses around incinerators, but as incinerators are a major source of fine particulates, and ischaemic heart disease is a relatively common cause of death, substantial excess cardiac mortality and morbidity would be predicted. The foetus and infant are particularly susceptible to damage from toxins and carcinogens, and there are indications that some effects may be passed to the next generation. Increased birth defects and an increased incidence of childhood cancers have been demonstrated around incinerators. Health costs should always be considered in determining strategies for waste disposal. Other methods are available that are safer and cheaper in the long term and far cheaper if the high health costs of incineration are taken into consideration. We recommend that these more modern methods should be used, and that a more stringent and independent monitoring system should be introduced. In our view, incinerators, with their high risks and high health costs, are a poor choice of technology for waste disposal: more modern and safer technologies should be used in the future. Tackling the problems of both the amount and the nature of waste generated is also of critical importance.
    Journal of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine 07/2009; 15(2-3):115-156. DOI:10.1080/13590840600554685

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