4185.0: Tuesday, November 14, 2000 - 3:30 PM

Abstract #9664

Decision-making and the precautionary principle

Ted Schettler, MD, MPH, Science and Environmental Health Network, 124 Peterboro Street, Number 12, Boston, MA 02215, 617-536-7033, tschettler@igc.org and Gina M. Solomon, MD, MPH, Natural Resources Defense Council, 71 Stevenson Street, Suite 1825, San Francisco, CA 94105.

Endocrine disruptors provide an instructive context in which to examine how we use decision-making tools in setting policy. The current use of risk assessment as the pre-eminent policy tool has appeal but risk assessment has numerous weaknesses. For example, risk assessment fails to currently address many properties of endocrine disruptors, such as ubiquitous 'background' contamination of human tissues, complex chemical interactions, ultra-low-level effects, and vulnerability specific to certain developmental stages in the fetus. The weaknesses of risk assessment will be illustrated via specific examples where risk assessment fails to adequately address the human health implications of exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and the uncertainty in our understanding. The precautionary principle, which forces us to look at scientific uncertainty as we decide what to do, is actually a fundamental principle, perhaps even a first principle, that guides us in our choice of tools. Risk assessment is only one available tool and its validity dissipates in uncertain circumstances. The precautionary principle invites the use of more appropriate tools. Specific science-policy decisions in the field of endocrine disruptors will provide a context for a discussion of how implementation of the precautionary principle can play out in reality. In particular alternative tools to risk assessment will be considered. The public health implications of applying the precautionary principle more broadly will be explored.

Learning Objectives: At the conclusion of this presentation, the participants will be able to: 1) Describe how risk assessment is currently used to inform environmental health policy; 2) Clarify some of the weaknesses of risk assessment as a tool for decision making; 3) Define the precautionary principle; 4) Explore examples of the use of the precautionary principle and risk assessment in public health decisions

Keywords: Environmental Health, Policy/Policy Development

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
Organization/institution whose products or services will be discussed: None
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

The 128th Annual Meeting of APHA