Multinational Monitor

SEP 2004
VOL 25 No. 9


The Rise of the Precautionary Principle: A Social Movement Gathers Strength
by Nancy Myers

Welcome to NanoWorld: Nanotechnology and the Precautionary Principle Imperative
by Peter Montague

REACH and the Long Arm of the Chemical Industry
by Joseph DiGangi


Precautionary Precepts: The Power and Potential of the Precautionary Principle
an interview with with Carolyn Raffensperger


Behind the Lines

Precaution and Power

The Front
Drug Price Gouging OK’d - World Bank Troubles in Timor

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


The Precautionary Principle

The Rise of the Precautionary Principle:
A Social Movement Gathers Strength

By Nancy Myers

Ed Soph is a jazz musician and professor at the University of North Texas in Denton, a growing town of about 100,000 just outside Dallas, Texas. In 1997, Ed and his wife Carol founded Citizens for Healthy Growth, a Denton group concerned about the environment and future of their town. The Sophs and their colleagues -- the group now numbers about 400 -- are among the innovative pioneers who are implementing the Precautionary Principle in the United States.

The Sophs first came across the Precautionary Principle in 1998, in the early days of the group's campaign to prevent a local copper wire manufacturer, United Copper Industries, from obtaining an air permit that would have allowed lead emissions. Ed remembers the discovery of the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle -- a 1998 environmental health declaration holding that "When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically" -- as "truly a life-changing experience." Using the Precautionary Principle as a guide, the citizens refused to be drawn into debates on what levels of lead, a known toxicant, might constitute a danger to people's health. Instead, they pointed out that a safer process was available and insisted that the wise course was not to issue the permit. The citizens prevailed. MORE>>

Welcome to NanoWorld: Nanotechnology and the Precautionary Principle Imperative

By Peter Montague

Nanotechnology -- or nanotech, for short -- is a new approach to industrial production, based on the manipulation of things so small that they are invisible to the naked eye and even to most microscopes. Nanotechnologists foresee a second industrial revolution sweeping the world during our lifetimes as individual atoms are assembled together into thousands of useful new products. Few deny that new products may entail new hazards, but most nanotechnologists say existing regulations are adequate for controlling any hazards that may arise. In the United States, nanotech is not now subject to any special regulations and nano products need not even be labeled. Furthermore, no one has developed a consistent nomenclature for nano materials, so rigorous discussion of nanotech among regulators and policymakers is not yet possible. Without consistent nomenclature, standardized safety testing lies in the future.

No one denies that nanotech will produce real benefits, but, based on the history of nuclear power, biotechnology and the chemical industry, skeptics are calling for a precautionary approach. The resulting clash of philosophies -- "Better safe than sorry" versus "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" or even in some cases "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" -- may offer a major test of the Precautionary Principle as a new way of managing innovation. MORE>>

REACH and the Long Arm of the Chemical Industry

By Joseph DiGangi

In February 2001, the European Union released a plan for a sweeping reform of chemical regulatory policy. The plan, known as REACH, requires manufacturers to provide safety information about chemicals before putting them on the market, and proposes a method for restricting use of the most dangerous chemicals.

REACH was designed to address a previous European regulatory system that left the majority of chemicals out of requirements for safety data. This system resembles the current situation in the United States, where 95 percent of the chemicals in use today lack basic safety data about possible hazards to human health and the environment. MORE>>

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