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The reactionary principle: inaction for public health
  1. David Kriebel
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr D Kriebel
 School of Health and Environment, University of Massachusetts, 1 University Avenue, Lowell, MA 01854, USA; david_kriebel{at}

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Commentary on the editorial by Martuzzi (see page 569)

Martuzzi’s commentary on the precautionary principle is welcome and timely.1 I will make a few largely supportive comments while perhaps anticipating and addressing some concerns that readers may have.

The 1998 Wingspread consensus statement characterised the precautionary principle this way: “when an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically”.2 The statement went on to list four central components of the precautionary principle:

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.

A skeptical reader may ask: isn’t this just a fancy new name for what any responsible public health scientist has always done?

On the contrary, precaution brings important new insights into occupational and environmental health …

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  • Competing interests: None.

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