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Environ Health Perspect. 2006 Apr;114 Suppl 1:152-60.

Late lessons from early warnings: Toward realism and precaution with endocrine-disrupting substances.

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European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, Denmark.


The histories of selected public and environmental hazards, from the first scientifically based early warnings about potential harm to the subsequent precautionary and preventive measures, have been reviewed by the European Environment Agency. This article relates the "late lessons" from these early warnings to the current debates on the application of the precautionary principle to the hazards posed by endocrine-disrupting substances (EDSs). Here, I summarize some of the definitional and interpretative issues that arise. These issues include the contingent nature of knowledge; the definitions of precaution, prevention, risk, uncertainty, and ignorance; the use of differential levels of proof; and the nature and main direction of the methodological and cultural biases within the environmental health sciences. It is argued that scientific methods need to reflect better the realities of multicausality, mixtures, timing of dose, and system dynamics, which characterize the exposures and impacts of EDSs. This improved science could provide a more robust basis for the wider and wise use of the precautionary principle in the assessment and management of the threats posed by EDSs. The evaluation of such scientific evidence requires assessments that also account for multicausal reality. Two of the often used, and sometimes misused, Bradford Hill "criteria," consistency and temporality, are critically reviewed in light of multicausality, thereby illustrating the need to review all of the criteria in light of 40 years of progress in science and policymaking.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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