Glossary

Type a term:

Precautionary Principle

“When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause-and-effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.

In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof.”

- Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, January, 1998.

As we stated in our welcome letter in the Introduction, we believe that every person has the right to make informed choices and to have the opportunity to learn about both the benefits and risks of the activities in which they are engaged. This means that citizens should have easy access to information about potential health risks posed by products being developed and sold for everyday use. While we recognize the complexity of our highly technological and industrialized culture, it is important that manufacturers and distributors should provide safety information related to the production, use and ultimate disposal of their products.

Currently in the United States, manufacturers introduce thousands of new chemicals to the market each year. Unlike food and drug regulations, which require extensive testing on new products before approval for public use, the regulations for industrial and manufacturing development do not require companies to fully test new substances to establish their safety. Without testing, and therefore without possible evidence of a substance’s environmental or health danger, toxic substances are, in practice, considered harmless. Use of these products may expose consumers to unknown hazards.

The Precautionary Principle advocates taking preventative measures in the face of scientific uncertainty. The principle has been adopted by the European Union, as well as by individual municipalities across the United States, as the basis for regulation of industry and commerce.

The Precautionary Principle states that collectively we have obligations to protect the environment and human health, even if scientific evidence cannot fully establish a cause and effect relationship between a particular substance and potentially harmful effects of its use. Implementation of the Precautionary Principle means that the burden of proof of the safety of a substance or product falls to those who propose that it is safe. In other words, it is imperative that health and environmental impacts of new products be tested and that safety and lack of potential harm should not be presumed. Manufacturers should have to take actions to demonstrate that a chemical or product is safe before introducing it into the environment or making it available for public use or consumption.

The Precautionary Principle can be used as a primary prevention strategy for decreasing risks for breast cancer, especially those risks associated with environmental links to the disease. The principle stands as an act of prevention rather than treatment. By working to eliminate the causes of breast cancer and stopping the disease at its source, rather than focusing solely on treating cases as they arise, we may be able to lower the overall incidence of the disease.

While the Precautionary Principle stands for a larger social, even global, commitment, every individual can apply the principle to the decisions made in daily life. Precaution is an informed response to the best information available. In this CD, we have made every possible effort to provide a concise and accurate overview of current scientific information about a wide variety of substances implicated in risk for breast cancer. We have also provided full references and links to websites for users who want to learn more. By applying the Precautionary Principle, individuals can examine a range of alternatives and make decisions that minimize the risk to their health and to the environment around them.

It is better to be safe than sorry.

Read the full Wingspread Statement.