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The Precautionary Principle

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Why are so many New Yorkers ill?

New York State Breast Cancer Support & Education Network

The precautionary principle is a powerful unifying force which has created a new movement that is changing the way health and environmental policy is envisioned in the United States.

In 1998, at the Wingspread Conference in Wisconsin, a gathering of scientists, lawyers, and environmental activists called upon government, corporations, communities, and scientists to implement the precautionary principle when making public health and environmental decisions. The key component of The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle states: “Where an activity raises threats of harm to the environment or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.”


This precautionary approach shifts the question we ask about environmental hazards from “what level of harm is acceptable” to “how can we prevent harm.” Since Wingspread, the precautionary principle has been incorporated into a growing number of local and state policies in order to reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals.

Goals and Objectives

The First National Conference on Precaution brought together various groups working on diverse environmental issues to build a stronger movement to protect our health and environment. It was designed to strengthen our precautionary activities and start the discussion on building a movement to organize for fundamental change in the decision making process and to create a precautionary system in the US.

Why is the Precautionary Principle Important?

Our current public health and environmental policies have failed us. We have a system that is not able to prevent harm, but allows environmental degradation and public health crises. Corporations, the mass media, government, and a culture based on consumption and wealth reinforce this system of harm. We need a new approach - a successful movement to change this “structure of harm” to a “structure of precaution/prevention” that incorporates the many individuals and groups working in the areas of environmental health, economic sustainability, racial justice, energy, education, child development, disease prevention, food and agriculture, animal rights, and workplace democracy, to name a few. It can be done!