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Am J Public Health. 2001 Sep;91(9):1351-5.

Reenergizing public health through precaution.

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  • 1Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, Department of Work Environment, University of Massachusetts 01854, USA.


The precautionary principle has provoked a spirited debate among environmentalists worldwide, but it is equally relevant to public health and shares much with primary prevention. Its central components are (1) taking preventive action in the face of uncertainty; (2) shifting the burden of proof to the proponents of an activity; (3) exploring a wide range of alternatives to possibly harmful actions; and (4) increasing public participation in decision making. Precaution is relevant to public health, because it can help to prevent unintended consequences of well-intentioned public health interventions by ensuring a more thorough assessment of the problems and proposed solutions. It can also be a positive force for change. Three aspects are stressed: promoting the search for safer technologies, encouraging greater democracy and openness in public health policy, and stimulating reevaluation of the methods of public health science.

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