An Ounce of Precaution

| August 15, 2003

In June, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 to adopt the Precautionary Principle, consolidating the city's environmental laws into a single code to 'create and maintain a healthy, viable Bay Area environment for current and future generations,' reports Rachel's Environment and Health News. Created by San Francisco breast cancer activist Joan Reinhardt, Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health Network in Ames, Iowa, and Massachusetts attorney Sanford Lewis, the ordinance was supported by a host of Bay City activists.

According to the Environmental Research Foundation web site, the principle is the result of a two-year study of how to most effectively integrate city and county environmental policies. The study's findings concluded:

  • Every citizen has an inherent right to 'live healthy, fulfilling. and dignified lives,' with access to clean air, water, earth, and food.
  • Environmentally harmful activities have historically been identified only after people and the environment have been harmed. To effectively repair the damage, the city must '[move] beyond finding cures for environmental ills to preventing the ills before they do harm.'
  • Citizens are equal partners in decisions affecting their environment.

The report concluded that five elements are necessary to the Precautionary Principle's success:

  • Anticipatory action to prevent harm, emphasizing equal responsibility on government, business, community groups, and the general public.
  • Community's right to know 'complete and accurate information on potential human health and environmental impacts [of] products, services, operations, or plans' with the burden of information falling on the proponent, not the public.
  • Obligation to assess and select the most effective alternative, including the choice to do nothing.
  • Duty to consider all costs, from raw materials to cleanup, 'even if such costs are not reflected in the initial price.'
  • Participatory Decision Process, in which all decisions are 'transparent, participatory, and informed by the best available information.'

The board will reconvene in three years to review the effectiveness of Precautionary Principle Policy.
-- Erin Ferdinand

Go there>> San Francisco Adopts the Precautionary Principle

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