Week #11: March 15
There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals approved for market use today, from preservatives in our lipstick to flame retardants in our sofas, from plasticizers in our water bottles to pesticides on our fruit and vegetables. Less than 10% of these chemicals have been tested for their effects on human health. We know that the average American carries at least 116 chemicals in his or her body, yet scientists can tell us next to nothing about the lifetime effects of living with this toxic “cocktail” of chemicals.
Today, the environmental laws and regulations that guide the decisions we make about public health and the environment focus on managing risks rather than preventing harm. The Precautionary Principle shifts this kind of decision-making to a more comprehensive approach that looks at alternatives to a current activity, stresses meaningful public participation, and looks at all of the costs (economic, health, environmental) that are involved in a project or activity.
For example, in a traditional risk management model, a local Recreation and Parks manager would ask “How much arsenic is okay to allow in arsenic-treated wood playground equipment?” Following a precautionary principle approach, the manager would ask “do we need to use arsenic treated wood at all?” and “what are the alternatives to using arsenic treated wood”? Risk management asks “How much harm is allowable?” while the precautionary principle asks “How little harm is possible?”
The Breast Cancer Fund is a founding member of the Bay Area Precautionary Principle Working Group (BAWG), an innovative collaborative made up of leaders from the breast cancer, public health, environmental health and environmental justice communities, formed to promote the implementation of the precautionary principle in the Bay Area and assist other regions of the country in their efforts to do that same.
To learn more, visit http://www.TakingPrecaution.org.