Precautionary principle


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Terms & Synonyms

Precautionary principle

Official WHO Definition

The adoption of prudence when outcomes are uncertain but potentially serious (WHO et al. 2003).

For some drinking water constituents, evidence is not yet sufficient to determine if, and to what extent, they represent a potential risk to public health. If these constituents are present in source water, it can be difficult to determine if action should be taken to protect public health. Even when sufficient evidence is available to assess risk to public health, identifying and prioritizing risks can still be challenging. Regardless of whether or not sufficient evidence is available to assess risk to public health, the precautionary principle should be applied by:- Identifying and prioritizing constituents of concern; and - Ensuring that limited resources are allocated towards the monitoring, assessment and control of the constituents that pose the greatest risks to public health.

Other Definitions

As defined in the Rio Declaration the principle holds that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.


Interpretations and Explanations


WHO, WMO and UNEP (2003) Climate change and human health: Risks and responses

WHO Lexicon page (translations and examples)

See also

External Resources


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