The precautionary principle

Arh Hig Rada Toksikol. 2005 Jun;56(2):161-6.


The Precautionary Principle in its simplest form states: "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". This Principle is the basis for European environmental law, and plays an increasing role in developing environmental health policies as well. It also is used in environmental decision-making in Canada and in several European countries, especially in Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. The Precautionary Principle has been used in the environmental decision-making process and in regulating drugs and other consumer products in the United States. The Precautionary Principle enhances the collection of risk information for, among other items, high production volume chemicals and risk-based analyses in general. It does not eliminate the need for good science or for science-based risk assessments. Public participation is encouraged in both the review process and the decision-making process. The Precautionary Principle encourages, and in some cases may require, transparency of the risk assessment process on health risk of chemicals both for public health and the environment. A debate continues on whether the Principle should embrace the "polluter pays" directive and place the responsibility for providing risk assessment on industry. The best elements of a precautionary approach demand good science and challenge the scientific community to improve methods used for risk assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Health* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Europe
  • Harm Reduction
  • Humans
  • Public Health*
  • Risk Management
  • United States