The cost of ignoring the warning signs - EEA publishes ‘Late Lessons from Early Warnings, volume II’
New technologies have sometimes had very harmful effects, but in many cases the early warning signs have been suppressed or ignored. The second volume of Late Lessons from Early Warnings investigates specific cases where danger signals have gone unheeded, in some cases leading to deaths, illness and environmental destruction.
The first volume of Late Lessons was published in 2001. The new 750-page volume includes 20 new case studies, with far-reaching implications for policy, science and society.
Case studies include the stories behind industrial mercury poisoning; fertility problems caused by pesticides; hormone-disrupting chemicals in common plastics; and pharmaceuticals that are changing ecosystems. The report also considers the warning signs emerging from technologies currently in use, including mobile phones, genetically modified organisms and nanotechnology.
The historical case studies show that warnings were ignored or sidelined until damage to health and the environment was inevitable. In some instances, companies put short-term profits ahead of public safety, either hiding or ignoring the evidence of risk. In others, scientists downplayed risks, sometimes under pressure from vested interests. Such lessons could help avoid harm from emerging technologies. However, five of the stories illustrate the benefits of quickly responding to early warning (News Item European Environment Agency, 23 January 2013).