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Precautionary Principle – Number 199

Successes and setbacks

January/February 2011


I.   Green purchasing in New York

On December 29, 2010, New York State approved a Green Purchasing policy to avoid "bad actor" chemicals in products. The Interagency Committee on Procurement voted to approve a guidance policy requiring all NYS agencies to consider avoiding 85 chemicals in products purchased by the state. Relying on federal priority lists, the list includes PBTs, known and probable carcinogens, PBDEs, PFOAs and BPA (see link below for list). According to Anne Rabe of the Center for Health, Environment, and Justice, "This is the most comprehensive chemical avoidance purchasing list in the country and it will have a major impact on greening the marketplace with NY's annual buying power of $9 billion."

The Chemicals Avoidance List is available on this page. Click on "Chemical Avoidance List."

II. California's hard lessons in chemical policy reform 

SEHN Networker, Jan/Feb 2011

How California came to the brink of enacting far-reaching, precautionary chemical regulations—and pulled back. What reformers learned in the process.

Read the issue

III. Civil Society Letter to President's Commission on Synthetic Biology

December 16, 2010

"The undersigned 58 organizations from 22 countries do not support the Commission's recommendations on synthetic biology. They are an inadequate response to the risks posed by synthetic biology because they: 1) ignore the precautionary principle, 2) lack adequate concern for the environmental risks of synthetic biology, 3) rely on the use of "suicide genes" and other technologies that provide no guarantee of environmental safety, and 4) rely on "self regulation," which means no real regulation or oversight of synthetic biology. A precautionary regulatory framework is necessary to prevent the worst potential harms. . . ."

Read more

IV. Resolution Calling to Amend the Constitution Banning Corporate Personhood Introduced in Vermont

Alternet, January 22, 2011

The resolution, the first of its kind, proposes "an amendment to the United States Constitution ... which provides that corporations are not persons under the laws of the United States." Sources in the Vermont state house say it has a good chance of passing.

Read more

V. Fracking and the precautionary principle

Public comment to Philadelphia City Council from Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, January 27, 2011

The comment describes an industry-led, last-minute end run around a fracking delay imposed by the Philadelphia City Council pending completion of cumulative impact studies. The resolution, also on the page, invokes the precautionary principle.

Read comment and resolution

VI. Precautionary principle in National Park Service Management Policies

In a January 5, 2011, letter to National Park Service (NPS) Director Jon Jarvis, the South Florida Wildlands Association challenged a management plan allowing offroad vehicle access to a section of Big Cypress National Reserve. Among other concerns, the group cited pressures on endangered Florida panthers:

"Whether the panther 'can handle' the anticipated impacts is very much up in the air and should immediately trigger application of the NPS's 'precautionary principle . . . . As stated in the current DOI Management Policies for the NPS: In cases of uncertainty as to the impacts of activities on park natural resources, the protection of natural resources will predominate."

That principle is stated on page 36 of the NPS’s 2006 policies:

4.1 General Management Concepts

As explained in chapter 1 of these Management Policies, preserving park resources and values unimpaired is the core or primary responsibility of NPS managers. The Service cannot conduct or allow activities in parks that would impact park resources and values to a level that would constitute impairment. To comply with this mandate, park managers must determine in writing whether proposed activities in parks would impair natural resources. Park managers must also take action to ensure that ongoing NPS activities do not cause the impairment of park natural resources. In cases of uncertainty as to the impacts of activities on park natural resources, the protection of natural resources will predominate. The Service will reduce such uncertainty by facilitating and building a sciencebased understanding of park resources and the nature and extent of the impacts involved."

VII. Flood-resistant building design and the precautionary principle

Donald Watson and Michele Adams, “Design for Flooding,” Architecture Week, January 2011

"The precautionary principle is properly applied to actions that are potentially irreversible, such as planning where biodiversity and ecological services may be irretrievably lost or reduced. The principle suggests that interventions must be reversible and flexible. Any mistakes must be correctible."

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VIII. The Precautionary Principle: Athena Shlien follows the money trail to save Malibu Lagoon

Ben Marcus, Malibu Patch, January 22, 2011

The principle is "something I stumbled upon when I was doing lagoon related research... It basically states that no action is better than harm. That is exactly how I feel about this situation. No action will have less negative consequences than the current restoration plan. I also said that destroying something for the sake of saving it is crazy..."

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