The Significance of the Precautionary Principle
If there is a product we may think can cause harm to ourselves or the environment, it's up to us to investigate it, guides Diann Peart.
In 1998, the Science and Environmental Health Network, made up of scientists, government representatives, labor activists and environmental leaders, met in Racine, Wisconsin, to develop a commonsense approach to environmental concerns and life in general.
They called this approach “the precautionary principle” and defined it as follows: “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.”
Because cause and effect are often difficult to establish scientifically and take lots of time and funding to do the research, we are still risking both human health and ecosystem functionality. When it comes to environmental issues and chemical regulations in the U.S., most decision making is like our judicial system, which says an activity is safe (innocent) until proven harmful (guilty). Within that perspective, there is little incentive for agencies or corporations to follow the precautionary principle; consider threats like oil fracking, organophosphate pesticides, GMOs and many household cleaning products.
It feels overwhelming to realize that there are more than 80,000 different chemical compounds currently being made and used globally. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) receives approval applications for 2,000 more compounds annually, without the needed budget increases to follow through effectively.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that in 2003 fewer than 50 percent of all chemicals submitted for approval to the EPA revealed even basic toxicity data, and more than 80 percent of those were approved within three weeks. In 2010, EWG researchers detected nearly 300 chemicals in the cord blood of 20 American newborns. Most of these chemicals entered our homes in products that were thought to be safe: soaps, cosmetics, cleaners, air fresheners and myriad others that don’t tell us exactly what’s inside. It has been estimated that the average American home contains from three to 10 gallons of toxic chemicals.
It’s time to make a commitment to the precautionary principle in our homes: if we feel that there might be harm in a product, substance or activity, investigate it. Read labels and Google the information.
Diann Peart is co-founder of Truce, which produces toxin-free cleaning products for home, personal and pet use. For more information, visit TruceClean.com.