Visiting US Expert Backs Drive for Precautionary Principle to Protect Consumers from Harmful Chemicals

Quezon City. A retired professor of chemistry from New York who has gone to 52 countries promoting Zero Waste and chemical safety has bolstered a citizens’ campaign to uphold the precautionary principle (PP) to protect the consumers from toxic harm.

Speaking at a seminar convened by the EcoWaste Coalition at the Occupational Safety and Health Center in Quezon City, Dr. Paul Connett, a specialist on environmental chemistry and toxicology, emphasized the importance of applying the PP to ensure a toxic-free and life-sustaining environment for people and other creatures.

Precautionary principle, as explained in the Wingspread Statement, states that “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.”

“The PP posits the notion that when there is reasonable doubt on the safety of substance or practice, we should err on the side of caution,” said Dr. Connett.

To help the EcoWaste Coalition with its advocacy against polluting waste disposal facilities and harmful products and substances, Dr. Connett presented his seven-point criteria to assist citizens in justifying the citation of PP as a reason for rejecting a proposed activity.

These “trigger criteria,” according to Dr. Connett, will help citizens employ the PP in a more disciplined way and thus avoid the criticisms leveled at the principle by supporters of technological and industrial activities regardless of their costs to human health and the environment. These criteria are:

1. Is the evidence of harm plausible?
2. Is the evidence supported by a number of peer-reviewed published studies?
3. If the harm is real is it serious?
4. Are the effects reversible?
5. How good is the evidence that the benefit being sought is real and significant?
6. How significant are the consequences if the practice is halted?
7. Are there cost effective alternatives to the practice?

To show how the criteria are used, Dr. Connett examined case studies on the incineration of domestic waste and the fluoridation of drinking water and explored the responses to each of the trigger criteria.

“We find the pursuit of PP crucial in light of the effort to examine and upgrade the country’s chemicals management laws and regulations,” stated Manny Calonzo, President, EcoWaste Coalition.

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Environmental Management Bureau on December 7 and 8 will hold a multistakeholders’ consultation to review existing policies on chemicals.

“The application of PP and other core principles should lead to an open, informed and democratic citizens’ participation in reforming our chemical policies, affirm the people’s right to know and support alternatives that will prevent grave or irreparable harm,” he added.

The same seminar where Dr. Connett spoke saw the auspicious launch of the Consumers’ Action on Toxic Chemical Threats or CONTACT Group, a loose network of individuals that will serve as a vehicle for information exchange and action on chemical safety concerns.

“We have timed the launch of CONTACT Group with the onset of the Christmas shopping spree that could be both financially draining and toxic to health if consumers fail to assert their rights,” said Thony Dizon, Coordinator of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT (People Responding and Organizing against Toxic Chemical Threats).

These rights include the rights of consumers to be informed, to be educated, to be heard, to choose, to safety, to redress of grievances, to the satisfaction of basic needs and to a healthy environment.

To encourage consumer vigilance against products that are hazardous to health or life, youth members of the EcoWaste Coalition staged a tableau where they are seen holding a mock magnifying lens to communicate the need for consumers to assert their “right to ask, right to know” towards safe and informed choice.

Individuals who share the vision of protecting consumers from toxic chemicals that can cause ill health to humans and other creatures and damage the environment are welcomed to join the group.

CONTACT Group will share information through e-mail, text and other forms of social communication, act as watchdog on toxic issues and encourage preventive and precautionary action – individually or collectively – on pressing toxic concerns.

Additional Information:

1. The Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle was drafted and finalized at a conference on 23-25 January 1998 at the Wingspread Conference Center, Racine, Wisconsin, by 32 authors, mostly academicians, scientists and public interest activists.

2. The statement listed four central components of the Precautionary Principle: 1) taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; 2) shifting burdens onto proponents of potentially harmful activities; 3) exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions;
and 4) increasing public participation in decision making.

3. Dr. Paul Connett is a graduate of Cambridge University and holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from Dartmouth College. Since 1983 he taught chemistry at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY where he specialized in Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology. He retired in May 2006. Over the past 24 years his research on waste management has taken him to 49 states in the US, and 52 other countries, where he has given over 2000 pro bono public presentations. Ralph Nader said of Paul Connett, “He is the only person I know who can make waste interesting.” A recent essay on “Zero Waste for Sustainability” which was published as a chapter in a book in Italy in 2009, along with several videotapes Paul has made on Zero waste, can be accessed at
www.AmericanHealthStudies.org a This site is hosted by the group AESHP (American Environmental Health Studies Project) which Paul directs.