The Precautionary Principle in the 20th Century: Late Lessons from Early Warnings

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The precautionary principle is widely seen as fundamental to successful policies for sustainability. It has been cited in international courts and trade disputes between the USA and the EU, and invoked in a growing range of political debates. Understanding what it can and cannot achieve is therefore crucial. This volume looks back over the last century to examine the role the principle played or could have played, in a range of major and avoidable public disasters. From detailed investigation of how each disaster unfolded, what the impacts were and what measures were adopted, the authors draw lessons and establish criteria that could help to minimise the health and environmental risks of future technological, economic and policy innovations. This is an informative resource for all those from lawyers and policy-makers, to researchers and students needing to understand or apply the principle.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'One of the most useful, comprehensive and readable books on environmental issues that I have ever read.'
Tom Davey, Environmental Science and Engineering Magazine

'Policy makers concerned with climate change or genetic modifications should read this collection of early warnings wilfully ignored.'
New Scientist

'The real value of this book is that it is a refreshing shift away from rhetoric towards a far more informed and careful analysis of precautionary action and the precautionary principle.'
Journal of Environmental Law

'Makes excellent and thought-provoking reading.'
Journal of Risk Research

'This is a valuable book, full of sensible discussions, useful insights and helpful guidance for the future.'
Cass R Sunstein. The Yearbook of European Environmental Law volume 6

'I commend this to all who have an interest in environmental hazard and risk assessment and public policy.'
Journal of the Royal Institute of Public Health

Future Survey
The case studies show many examples where regulatory inaction led to costly consequences that were not foreseen. Regulation should involve balancing the costs of being too restrictive with the costs of being too permissive.
Looking to past disasters for lessons useful in the future, this book presents 14 accounts of occupational, public, and environmental hazards. Focusing on hazards like asbestos, PCBs, ozone deterioration, the collapse of fish stocks, and mad cow disease, each chapter considers the use, neglect, and potential misuse of a precautionary approach for the danger being considered. A conclusion identifies twelve specific lessons. Distributed by Stylus. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781853838927
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 5/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.44 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.16 (d)

Meet the Author

Poul Harremoes is professor of environmental science and engineering at the Technical University of Denmark.
David Gee is project manager for emerging environmental issues and scientific liaison at the European Environment Agency (EEA), Denmark.
Malcolm MacGarvin is an environmental consultant based in Scotland.
Andy Stirling is senior lecturer at Science and Technology Policy Research (SPRU), University of Sussex, UK.
Jane Keys is a freelance environmental researcher based in the UK.
Brian Wynne is professor of science studies at Lancaster University, UK.
Sofia Guedes Vaz is an environmental engineer who has worked at the EEA on reporting, targets and emerging environmental issues.

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Table of Contents

Foreword by Tim O'Riordan
• Preface by Domingo Jimenez Beltran
• Introduction
• Fisheries: Taking Stock
• Radiation: Early Warnings, Late Effects
• Benzene: a Historical Perspective on the American and European Occupational Setting
• Asbestos: from 'Magic' to Malevolent Mineral
• PCBs and the Precautionary Principle
• Halocarbons, the Ozone Layer and the Precautionary Principle
• The DES Story: Long-term Consequences of Prenatal Exposure
• Sulphur Dioxide: from Protection of Human Lungs to Remote Lake Restoration
• MTBE in Petrol as a Substitute for Lead
• Early Warnings of Chemical Contamination of the Great Lakes
• TBT Antifoulants: a Tale of Ships, Snails and Imposex
• Hormones as Growth Promoters: the Precautionary Principle or a Political Risk Assessment?
• 'Mad Cow Disease' 1980s-2000: How Reassurances Undermined Precaution
• Twelve Late Lessons
• Conclusions
• About the Authors
• References
• Index

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