Europe ‘has failed to learn from environmental disasters’ via Euractiv

Europe has failed to learn the lessons from many environmental and health disasters like Chernobyl, leaded petrol and DDT insecticides, and is now ignoring warnings about bee deaths, GM food and nanotechnology, according to an 800-page report by the European Environment Agency.

Thousands of lives could have been saved and extensive damage to ecosystems avoided if the “precautionary principle” had been applied on the basis of early warnings, say the authors of the 2013 Late Lessons from Early warnings report published on Wednesday.

They accuse industry of working to corrupt or undermine regulation by spinning and manipulating research and applying pressure on governments for financial benefit. “[It has] deliberately recruited reputable scientists, media experts and politicians to call on if their products were linked to possible hazards. Manufacturing doubt, disregarding scientific evidence of risks and claiming over-regulation appear to be a deliberate strategy for some industry groups and think tanks to undermine precautionary decision-making.”

The peer-reviewed study, which is aimed to improve understanding of scientific information, looks at 18 areas including radiation from mobile phones, birth control pills in the aquatic environment, and invasive species. It found that governments often introduced laws much too late to prevent deaths and massive financial costs, but were highly likely to ignore scientific warnings and resist any regulation. The authors found more than 80 cases where no regulation was introduced when it later turned out that the risk from a technology or chemical was real, or still unproven.

Nuclear power

The study says the Fukushima disaster in 2011 may have released twice as much radiation as the Japanese government admitted. The emissions of radioactive caesium-137 from Fukushima are said to have started earlier than the authorities have claimed, to have lasted longer, and to have spread over a wider area of land than previously believed.

The authors say that it is far too early to make any responsible estimate of the potential health impact of the Fukushima disaster.

The report reopens the controversy between pro- and anti- nuclear power advocates about the health damage from in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. While the World Health Organisation has claimed that only 28 people died and there could be a possible 4,000 additional cancer deaths , the EU study states that the numbers of deaths could range from “at least 17,000 to 68,000 over 50 years”.

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