Under the leadership of Dr. James Nash, former Executive
Director of the Churches' Center for Theology and Public Policy in
Washington, D.C., and at the request of the Chlorine Chemistry
Council, a select number of ethicists from universities and
theological schools across the country were invited to participate
in an open-ended dialogue. The idea was to bring together ethicists
with a background in environmental ethics and chlorine industry
representatives to discuss environmental issues peculiar to the
products of chlorine chemistry. The authors of this piece have been
privileged to be among the corps of participating ethicists.
 In extending this invitation the industry representatives
expressed the need for ethical reflection. They realize that the
problems they face in assessing the impact of their industry
activities on the environment are not capable of resolution simply
by scientific and economic determinations. Moral judgments are also
needed on what is socially and ecologically justifiable. The
purpose for the dialogue, then, was defined as an exploration of
the principles and/or moral meanings of environmental
sustainability as they apply to the chlorine industry. The group
has taken the name, "The Ethics and Sustainability Dialogue Group."
The dialogue has met twice a year since its first meeting on
November 5-6, 1998 and continues to plan future meetings as of this
 A number of agreements were entered into from the start. The
ethicists involved have received no honoraria; only expenses are
covered. It was clear to all that there were no preordained
outcomes and that the presence of the ethicists in this dialogue
should not be construed as sanctioning the policies and practices
of the chlorine industry or the views of its representatives.
Honest exchange, careful listening, and mutual learning have been
the order of the day. Participants have committed to
confidentiality in the sense that, while the existence and nature
of the dialogue can be shared, individuals would not be quoted or
their positions characterized. While the case study that follows
has emerged by mutual consent, and other publications may yet be
produced with group approval, the goal of the dialogue per se has
not been publication. The strictures of unpaid participation in an
atmosphere of confidentiality, unfettered by the constraints that
publication goals might entail, help to insure that there will be
maximum candor and that the demands of the issues themselves would
set the agenda.
 While each of the ethicists would have his or her own
personal account of the experience thus far, most would doubtless
say that this dialogue is a special kind of opportunity. It is a
chance to exercise one's ethical theory and test one's basic
assumptions in the context of a detailed engagement with scientific
and industry realities and the claims and counterclaims involved,
and to do so face to face with those whose lives are invested in
the enterprise under review. For many of us in academic settings
this is not an everyday occurrence. For those of us who do
faith-based ethics - the overwhelming majority of the ethicists
participating - it is also not an everyday occurrence to engage in
a business-related conversation in which one's theological
perspective is welcomed.
 For the representatives of the chlorine industry this is a
special experience as well. They are letting outsiders into their
world who ostensibly speak a different language and who may even
think about the issues of environmentalism and chlorine products in
an entirely different mode of thought. Certainly one can say that
at the outset the vantage points of the participants are likely to
be different in significant ways even if all bring a genuine sense
of environmental responsibility to the table. This then gives the
industry folk the opportunity to test their assumptions, the
conclusions of their research, and their operating principles in a
new and potentially more "global" forum once removed from the
workplace pressures of immediate production decisions.
 Given certain differences in language and perspective, the
first step in this dialogue is to find one another in a way that
makes intelligible discourse possible. The commitment to principles
of authentic dialogue helps make this happen. Dialogue is not
debate, an effort to win the argument. It is not negotiation. It is
not consensus building, though consensus may sometimes emerge.
Dialogue requires that parties express their views honestly and
clearly without compromise. It requires that parties listen to the
views of their dialogue partners with such keen attention that they
are finally able to understand their partners' views as clearly as
they understand their own. Thus, recognition of the equality of all
participants is crucial if the sort of mutual respect required is
to be sustained. Dialogue is a path of discovery. We learn more
about the facts, complexities, and ambiguities of the issues. We
learn to appreciate one another's views even when we challenge or
disagree. We can come to know each other as conscientious
individuals with real hopes and fears common to our humanity and
thereby we head off the temptation of indulging in damaging
caricature. We often find that there is at least some common ground
on which to stand and sometimes ways to resolve differences. In
dialogue we are not committed to compromise, but we are open to
change in the light of new information and insight.
 Chlorine chemistry has produced a ubiquitous empire, as the
case study that follows indicates. Its products are everywhere. To
understand better this vast enterprise scientists were brought into
a number of the sessions to help us understand various aspects of
the industry in relation to its environmental impact. This
information was very important to those of us on a steep learning
curve. However, as soon as we felt we had enough grasp on the
realities of chlorine products in our world, their risks and
benefits, we were eager to engage one another directly, the
ethicists contributing their own brand of expertise in dialogue
with the insights and concerns of the industry representatives.
 For all its values a dialogue of this sort has its limits
too. The participants from the world of ethics and the industry
alike are self-selecting and may be more open to this kind of
engagement than is the norm in the conflictual relationships that
often prevail between environmental advocates and industry leaders.
If so, how can one reasonably expect the values and insights that
have emerged in the dialogue to have much impact beyond its
influence on those participating? We cannot answer that question
with certainty. We cannot be so naïve as to think that
dialogue will replace the need for political and legal solutions
for environmental threats. However, we can say that talking things
through on the basis of mutual respect is morally significant in
itself - an expression of just process -- and crucial to the kind
of moral deliberation needed for so many complicated and uncertain
 The dialogue reflected a number of perspectives along a
continuum ranging from the phase-out of chlorine products to their
continued production with environmental safeguards. The
former perspective is that of Greenpeace, the latter of the
chlorine industry. While most, if not all, industry
participants advocated continued production, the ethicists in the
dialogue ranged over the entire continuum.
 The following case study written by Bob Stivers is an
attempt to feature this continuum. It takes Bob's
interpretation of the discussions and puts them in the setting of
an Earth Day debate about chlorine sunset. The four main characters
present the critical perspectives in the dialogue. First a
biology professor summarizes the basic facts about chlorine.
Participants in the actual dialogue spent considerable time
investigating various chlorine products, their beneficial uses, and
their environmental costs.
 Second, a representative from an environmental organization
makes the case for phase-out. Environmental perspectives were
represented in the dialogue primarily by the ethicists, although
most industry advocates were well acquainted with them. In
addition, almost everyone in the dialogue studied the Greenpeace
position as interpreted by Joe Thornton in his book, Pandora's
 Third, a spokeswoman for the chlorine industry advocates
continued production with appropriate safeguards. In the
dialogue industry representatives usually held this position,
although most of the ethicists were favorably disposed to some
chlorine products, especially those that have minimal environmental
 Finally, a philosophy professor clarifies certain aspects
of the debate and directs critical comments at both sides,
seemingly taking a position somewhere in between. In the
dialogue almost everyone played such a role at one time or
another. The critical exchange of perspectives was central to
the process. The case concludes with a student (and
presumably the reader) sifting through the arguments and asking
herself where she stands.
 This case study is one of nine to appear in a new book by
James Martin-Schramm and Robert Stivers. Christian Environmental
Ethics: A Case Method Approach. Orbis Books, Fall 2003.
Toxic Wastes and the Precautionary Principle
 Amanda Felice had been hard at work on her senior thesis at
the state university. Her major was environmental studies, a
field she had selected in her sophomore year on the basis of her
love of animals and passion for a clean environment. One
reason she had gone to the university in the first place was its
excellent reputation in environmental studies. Her program
was well integrated, and her teachers had introduced her to a wide
range of disciplines in the natural sciences, social sciences, and
humanities. She now felt prepared to enter the
interdisciplinary discussions she would encounter after graduation
working for a local environmental organization concerned with clean
water in the bay.
 Her senior thesis on the chlorine chemical industry and its
impact on the environment had been a real challenge so far. It
required research into chlorine chemistry and the many
chlorine-based chemicals the industry had released to the
environment. She had also studied the history, economics, and
politics of the industry. Last semester she had taken a
course in environmental ethics
 Tonight's Earth Day program sponsored by the campus
environmental organization gave her further opportunity to evaluate
her direction with the thesis. In general, she agreed with
Greenpeace that chlorine production should be phased-out because so
many chlorine-based products have caused harm to both humans and to
the natural environment. She knew the Greenpeace position
from reading Joe Thornton's book, Pandora's Poison, but still
looked forward to hearing it articulated by a
 Representative from a local environmental group. She
would also hear the industry position from an executive at Davis
Chemical Company, who would no doubt present the case for continued
production. Her conclusion about the phase-out had
implications for her senior thesis. She would have to be
clearer about the industry perspective in order to make a
 Professor Eric Hansen from the university's Chemistry
Department led the program off with a summary of chlorine chemistry
and its commercial utility. He explained that chlorine is
element seventeen in the periodic table and the eleventh most
abundant element in nature. "It is found," he said, "mostly
joined with sodium as salt, a stable bond in which it poses no
threat to human health or the environment. Free chlorine
disassociated from sodium is, however, a deadly gas and highly
reactive because of its electron structure. It is attracted
to elements like sodium because it needs one electron to complete
its outer shell of electrons. Sodium is in turn attracted to
chlorine because it has one electron to give up. Salt is thus
a very stable molecule."
 "Years ago," he continued, "chemists found that chlorine
could be separated from sodium by passing an electrical current
through salt water. The technique is called the chlor-alkali
process, and is fundamental to all chlorine-based products.
They also discovered that the free chlorine that results, while a
deadly gas, could be used to disinfect water, bleach paper, and be
easily combined with carbon based organic molecules to form what
are called organochlorines with useful properties.
 "The other product of the chlor-alkali process is sodium
hydroxide or caustic soda, also with useful properties.
Indeed, caustic soda has been the more important in terms of profit
for the chlorine chemical industry, although chlorine has attracted
far more attention. I mention this," he added, "because it is
important to see that caustic soda in a sense drives the production
of chlorine. Industry cannot sell caustic soda unless it
finds outlets for chlorine gas. And since chlorine gas is so
deadly, and deadly because reactive with organic matter, industry
does not want to ship or store it but rather recombine it in a more
stable and less deadly form as soon as possible.
 "The useful properties of organochlorines (over 11,000 have
been synthesized to date) are reactivity, persistence, water
insolubility, and toxicity. Chlorine adds to the stability of
these organic compounds by replacing hydrogen. The chlorine
bond is stronger and increases resistance to degradation and
further reactivity. Organochlorines generally do not dissolve
in water, although many do so in fat. Organochlorines are
frequently toxic to other organic matter, a property useful as a
 "Chemists have synthesized organochlorines to make use of
one or more of these properties. Today organochlorines are
used to protect crops, fight disease, clean clothes and machinery,
and make medical equipment and drugs. The single biggest use
is in PVC plastic, better known as vinyl, with multiple uses.
Chlorine-based compounds are indeed versatile.
 "The same properties that are so useful to industry,
however, are also problematic," he went on to say.
"Persistence means that they do not break down easily or rapidly in
nature. Water insolubility and fat solubility mean they are
not readily eliminated as waste by organisms but tend rather to
accumulate in fatty tissue and pass on through the food chain in
ever greater accumulations. They bioaccumulate, we say.
Persistence and bioaccumulation can also work together to magnify
the effects of certain organochlorines. Finally, toxicity is
both short and long term. Elemental chlorine is a deadly
gas. Used extensively in the trench warfare of World War I,
it is acutely toxic. Chlorine-based compounds are not acutely
toxic but over the long term in sufficient doses can disrupt
endocrine systems, cause cancer, impair reproductive systems and
cognitive development, and suppress immune systems.
 "Organochlorines are rare in nature, their presence almost
all a result of the human release of synthesized compounds.
They vary greatly in their damaging effects, although relatively
little is known about how they work or the extent of damage.
Some, like the so-called 'dirty dozen' persistent organic
pollutants (POPS) and dioxins are extremely damaging, the more
exposure generally the more damage. The extent of the hazard
represented by organochlorines and other chlorine-based compounds
has not been definitively established, however. What we do
know is that cancer rates are rising, that the rate of species
extinction is high, and that habitat degradation is endemic.
Nobody knows how much of this environmental damage can be
attributed to chlorine.
 "Before I close, I should also mention chlorofluorocarbons
that deplete the earth's ozone layer. The chlorine industry
has all but stopped their production, and the ozone layer is
expected to recover, but it will take some time for this to happen.
The release of these substances is an example of failure to take
 With this professor Hansen sat down and passed the
microphone to Larry Burton from a local environmental group
concerned with air and water pollution in the region. Larry
thanked professor Hansen for his summary and began to make his case
for a phase-out of chlorine production.
 He started by citing the long train of environmental abuse
created by chlorine-based products, especially
organochlorines. He noted places like Love Canal in New York
State, Times Beach in Missouri, and Cancer Alley on the lower
Mississippi. He reviewed the reactivity, the persistence, the
bioaccumulation, and the toxicity of organochlorines. He
talked briefly about pesticides, PCBs, and dioxins.
 Larry then acknowledged that the chlorine industry had made
some effort to clean up its production processes, to test new
chemicals before release, and to curtail production of the dirty
dozen and other obviously harmful organochlorines. He further
acknowledged the industry's role in negotiating the POPS treaty to
eliminate persistent pollutants. Finally, he saw progress in
reducing the discharge of dioxins from incinerators and in general
more effective management of the waste stream.
 "In spite of these gains," he said, "we are still running a
grand experiment on the health of humans, other species, and
ecosystems. We continue to release chlorine in its many forms
to the environment without knowing much about effects. What
we do know about chlorine chemistry and past damage should put us
on alert. Even though there is great variability in the
capacity of these chemicals to cause damage, we have ample reason
to suspect harm." Professor Hansen spoke about rising cancer
rates, species extinction, and habitat degradation. "These
are just the tip of the iceberg," he added.
 "The efforts to manage this experiment rely on something
that former Greenpeace associate Joe Thornton calls the 'risk
paradigm'. The risk paradigm calls for managing individual
pollutants using science-based technology. Studies of toxicity and
of effects on human health (epidemiological studies) are used to
assess health risks and damage to the environment. Safe
levels of release are calculated by experimenting with laboratory
animals and extrapolating to humans. If the risk is high,
industry ceases production or does not produce the chemical in
question in the first place. Otherwise it uses pollution
control devices and improved waste control techniques to reduce
whatever risk there may be. Whether risk is acceptable
depends further on cost/benefit analysis where risk is weighed
against the economic and social benefits of a product. If the
benefits are high and the risk relatively low, industry proceeds
 At this point a hand shot up and Larry recognized a
student. "Has the risk paradigm worked?" asked the
student. "It seems to me the record is rather mixed, at least
if what you say is correct."
 "The risk paradigm looks good on paper," Larry answered, "
but it doesn't work very well and masks a lot of hazards. It
has failed for several reasons. It focuses on localized
health risks and misses the subtle and long-term effects on species
and ecosystems. It considers only the risks that can be
counted. It takes for granted the accuracy of scientists and
technologists who measure and assess risk and extrapolate from
laboratory animals to humans. It takes an atomistic and
reductionistic view of cause and effect by focusing on individual
chemicals and making simplifying assumptions about the chemicals
studied. It assumes there are acceptable levels of risk that
are measurable even at low doses. In fact low doses are seldom
calculated and pose substantial hazards. It also assumes that
biological systems have some capacity to assimilate toxic
substances, an assumption that is difficult to confirm because
these systems are extremely complex, the variables to factor in are
so numerous, and the number of organochlorines so great. If
biologists have learned anything in recent years, it is how little
they know about complex ecosystems. Toxicologists and
epidemiologists are no where near being able to predict or diagnose
the long-term effects of low doses.
 "They are also unsure about extrapolating from animals to
humans. They have barely begun to assess the total pollution
burden on health and the synergistic effects among chemicals.
Finally, the risk paradigm assumes that regulation, industry good
will, and pollution control will keep toxic damage to acceptable
levels. These are also questionable assumptions; and even if
accurate, they are not safe assumptions given our present state of
 "The chemical industry parades the risk paradigm with all
these flaws as 'sound science,' thereby creating the illusion that
toxic pollution is under control and things are getting
better. The industry sprinkles its risk assessments with
precise numbers to suggest scientific objectivity and pads its
cost/benefit analyses by understating the hazards and overstating
the benefits. The risk paradigm is human centered, or, as we
say, anthropocentric, disconnected from nature, and
atomistic. It is informed by notions of domination. In
short, it is the ideological perspective of those who want to use
the environment for profit. It is politics in the disguise of
 "Fortunately, there are alternatives," he insisted. "To
start with I suggest a paradigm shift, an alternative
worldview. Following Thornton, I call it the 'ecological
paradigm'. It is a perspective that is already well
established in the environmental community and spreading
rapidly. In contrast to the risk paradigm, it takes a
biocentric, holistic, and integrated approach. It centers on
ecosystems and their health and humans as parts of
ecosystems. It focuses on long term hazards and uses data
from many disciplines. It uses sound scientific knowledge but
recognizes the limits of such knowledge.
 "Part of the ecological paradigm is the treatment of
organochlorines and other chlorine-based chemicals as a class of
chemicals. Treating chlorine-based chemicals as a class stands in
contrast to the one by one, chemical by chemical procedure in the
risk paradigm. They are a class because they are produced by
the same process and have many of the same harmful
properties. This is not a radical approach. We already
consider chlorofluorocarbons, PCBs, lead containing substances, and
even alcohol and tobacco as classes. Treating organoclorines
as a class of substances avoids the high cost and impracticality of
testing the over 11,000 organochlorines already synthesized.
It puts the spotlight back on the industrial production of a single
element, chlorine, as the constituent element in commercial
uses. It points to the hazardous potential of all
organochlorines because of persistence, bioaccumulation, and
toxicity. Treating organochlorines as a class finally takes
into account all that we do not know about how they damage organic
 With this another student raised her hand. "I have
been hearing in class," she said, "about something called the
precautionary principle. Can you tell us about it?
 "The precautionary principle," Larry explained, "has
emerged recently in environmental thinking and has gained a lot of
support. Basically, the precautionary principle is about
prudence, the long neglected virtue that calls for caution and
discretion. Chemicals that may cause damage should not be
released to natural environments. While there are numerous
definitions of the principle, I think the one by ethicist James
Nash is good. His definition reads: 'In the absence of
scientific surety, when scientific or other empirical evidence
provides substantial reason for thinking that a process or product
might cause unwarranted harm to human welfare or ecological
integrity, whether that harm is reversible or irreversible, present
or future, decision-makers shall exercise due care by acting
appropriately to avoid or minimize such risk'.
 In my interpretation of the principle three additional
concepts give specificity: 1) reverse onus, 2) zero discharge, and
3) clean production. Reverse onus means that chlorine-related
products, especially those containing organochlorines, are presumed
guilty until proven innocent. The burden of proof rests on
industry to show that organochlorines are safe. This shift
reverses the present practice of placing the burden of proof on the
public to provide evidence of damage before restrictions are
 "The second concept is zero discharge of persistent,
bioaccumulative, and toxic substances. This concept has two
important implications. First it prohibits all releases by
demanding effective pollution control. Second, since
pollution control technologies can never be totally effective, it
means the phase-out of all persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic
substances, in this case all organochlorines.
 "The third concept is clean production which specifies how
zero discharge can be accomplished. It is an approach that
emphasizes upstream solutions instead of pollution control.
It prevents the generation of pollutants at their source in the
 "What I am proposing is a chlorine sunset, a phasing out of
organochlorines and other substances using chlorine. I know
this will seem to those in the chlorine industry to be a radical
policy, but consider the radical things industry is doing to human
health and the environment. They are introducing chemicals
into nature whose effects are irreversible. Who is the
radical anyway? A chlorine sunset is the only way to protect
people and the natural environment from toxic
organochlorines. We do not have to accomplish this
immediately, and it is reversible. As non-toxic alternatives
become available, industry should make substitutions.
Eventually all chlorine production should end, and with it our
radical assault on the environment. Fortunately,
cost-effective substitutes are available for most industrial uses
of chlorine." Today the case for substitutes is even
stronger. Chemical plants and other storage facilities for
elemental chlorine are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Large
quantities of hazardous materials are shipped by rail and road and
sit in storage tanks waiting to be used. Whole communities
could be wiped out.
 With that Larry sat down to loud applause. Amanda
liked what she heard and joined in the applause. She was
troubled, however, by the implications of Larry's paradigm for the
chlorine industry and the global economy, especially for employment
levels. To accomplish what Larry proposed would mean the end
of a highly capitalized industry that employs thousands of workers,
provides useful products, and contributes to economic
development. Higher prices, assuming substitutes cost more,
would put a crimp in the development plans of poorer
countries. Larry was asking a lot, especially in an
atmosphere of scientific uncertainty, but then past abuses had done
a lot of damage to the environment.
 Amanda hoped the next speaker, Lucia Hernandez, would
address these concerns. Lucia was introduced as a corporate
executive with Davis Chemical Company and an associate with the
Chlorine Chemical Council, an arm of the industry-wide Chemical
Manufacturers Association. Lucia picked up the
 "I am fully aware," she began, "that the chemical industry
has in the past released harmful substances to the
environment. This is a matter of record. Since becoming
aware of the problems, the chlorine industry has taken giant
strides to clean up its act. We have ceased the production of
suspect chemicals, cleaned up manufacturing processes, dramatically
improved the safe use and transport of our products, decreased our
waste, undertaken substantial and often costly efforts to test our
products, and cooperated with community and government
agencies. We are well on our way to being a sustainable
industry in the sense that we can maintain levels of production
without causing undue harm to the environment. So I am not
here tonight to be defensive or rebut critics of the industry who
want to shut us down. I will stand on the positive
initiatives we have taken and the contributions we make to economic
and social life.
 "The two previous speakers gave you some idea of the many
useful commercial products of the chlorine industry. Chlorine
is used in water purification, in prescription and over-the-counter
medications, in the manufacture of cars, trucks, and computers, in
home and office construction, in food processing and packaging, in
plastics, and in the defense industry. The value added to the
economy and overall society is tremendous, and I would be happy to
share these benefits after the forum with anyone who would like to
talk further. But let me instead speak to the environmental
issues that are the Earth Day concern of this session.
 "The foundation for our efforts to be good corporate
citizens is the Responsible Careâ initiative of the chemical
industry started in the late 1980s. With this program each
member company of the Chemical Manufacturers Association has
committed itself to improve the industry's responsible management
of chemicals. The program has several elements. It
includes a set of ten Guiding Principles that make health, safety
and environmental considerations our highest priorities. Each
company signs on to these principles indicating its
 "The ten principles are given greater specificity by five
more detailed codes. First, the Pollution Prevention Code is
designed to achieve a reduction in pollutants. It includes a
Toxics Release Inventory where we record our emissions to the
environment. Second, the Process Safety Code is aimed to
prevent fires, explosions, and accidental releases. Third,
the Distribution Code commits us to work with the carriers,
distributors, contractors, and our own employees to reduce
risk. Fourth, the Employee Health and Safety Code works to
protect our employees and visitors. Fifth, the Product
Stewardship Code makes environmental protection an integral part of
designing, manufacturing, marketing, distributing, using,
recycling, and disposing of products.
 "In addition, the program brings together the chemical
industry and local communities for cooperative emergency planning.
The program also establishes a public advisory panel made up of
knowledgeable leaders in the fields of health, safety, and
environmental protection. The program calls for member
self-evaluation. We require reports on how each company is
implementing the codes. We have credible external performance
measures to ensure progress. We have successfully encouraged
member companies to assist each other and have measures in place,
including disassociating a company from membership, to deal with
those companies that do not perform well. All in all,
Responsible Careâ is one of the best programs of its kind,
and we have evidence over the years to support our claims to
environmental stewardship. We can demonstrate progress.
Again, I would be glad to share more about the program and the
evidence of success with you after the forum.
 "The ethical basis for our Responsible Careâ program
is the norm of sustainable development. According to the
Bruntland Commission in 1987: 'Sustainable development is globally
recognized as meeting the needs of the present without compromising
the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.'
It consists of three major components: environment, economy, and
society. The production of chemicals cannot be sustainable if
it destroys its ecological foundation or harms human health.
This is obvious.
 "At the same time the present generation has a
responsibility to pass on to future generations a productive and
stable economy to meet basic needs. Productive capacity is
determined among other things by the accumulation of capital, the
provision of jobs, trade, and technological innovation, all things
the chlorine chemical industry does well. We also produce
socially useful products. Chlorine-based products are on the
market because people want them and are satisfied by what we
produce. So environment concerns are important, but so are
economic and social goods."
 As Lucia paused, a student raised her hand. "My
father," she said, "claims industry codes are so much smoke and
mirrors designed to protect profits. When I mentioned
sustainable development in a discussion at Christmas time, I though
he would have a fit. He argued the concept is much too
vague. What do you think?"
 "I am glad you asked about that," Lucia answered. "In
pursuing a course of sustainable development we have made an
important discovery. In the 1960s and 1970s environmental
improvement focused on pollution abatement, that is to say, end of
pipe remediation. Environmental protection was looked on as a
cost of production and a drain on profits.
 "During the 1980s we shifted to a philosophy of pollution
prevention. We found that prevention actually paid for itself
by reducing wastes and fees for waste disposal. It also
lowered our costs as we learned to recycle wastes and even to
create new products by turning waste into a resource and by
increasing efficiency as newer, cleaner replaced older, dirtier
technologies. Pollution prevention turned from a cost to a
source of profit, reduced regulatory pressures, increased customer
loyalty, improved financial performance, and pleased our
stakeholders. We firmly believe the norm of sustainable
development that is the basis of our Responsible Careâ
program is a win-win for us, the environment, the economy, and
society. Yes, we seek to be profitable. If we did not,
we would go out of business and our workers would lose their
 As Lucia paused, another student raised her hand and said:
"The previous speaker, Mr. Burton, talked about the precautionary
principle. What is your take on that?"
 "We support this principle," she said, "although sometimes
we find it vague, misleading, and given to extreme
misinterpretations. We in the chlorine chemical industry
believe that risks from our products are effectively managed by our
Responsible Careâ program and existing regulatory
frameworks. We are practicing the precautionary
 "We recognize, however, there are those like Mr. Burton who
think that risk assessment and risk management are inconsistent
with the precautionary principle. Indeed, Mr. Burton leaves
no room for any chlorine-based products because he dismisses the
possibility that scientists and technologists can ever assess risk
with acceptable precision. While he claims to use sound
science, he only uses it to identify general hazards or intrinsic
properties such as persistence and bioaccumulation. He
ignores the great number of excellent studies done on specific
chlorine-based products by respected toxicologists and
epidemiologists. These studies conclude that our products are
safe. When it comes to policy, Mr. Burton also ignores the
great differences between organochlorines as to persistence,
bioaccumulation, and toxicity. Mr. Burton's science seems to
stop at the door of scientific principles. It should go on to
study specifics. Absolute scientific certainty is rarely
achievable, of course, but we are convinced that our products meet
the test of safety; and where scientific evidence indicates
otherwise, we are prepared to remove unsafe products from the
 "What we in the chlorine industry advocate is a balanced
approach to the precautionary principle. We agree with
proponents of the principle that potential risks and uncertainty
should be taken into account in risk assessment and
management. We agree it is prudent to evaluate impacts of
products and processes before they are introduced. We agree
it is generally better to prevent adverse impacts than trying to
mitigate such impacts after the fact. We agree risk
management systems can always be improved.
 "With these agreements in mind, here is how we interpret
the precautionary principle in situations of risk and
uncertainty. We believe:
1) That reasoned judgments can be made about thresholds of
exposure, the capacity of systems to assimilate harmful substances,
and acceptable levels of risk even when uncertainty remains.
2) That science-based risk assessment is the best
tool to determine the seriousness of the hazard and the likelihood
of adverse effects.
3) That regulators and industry should not insist on absolute
scientific certainty as a precondition of controlling products or
processes that may be harmful. By the same token, there
should be credible scientific evidence that serious or irreversible
harm is likely before restrictions are imposed.
4) That when uncertainties are large and the probabilities of
harm remote restrictions are unwarranted.
5) That in situations of unacceptable harm, cost-effective risk
management decisions should be selected.
6) That risk management decisions should be proportionate to the
harm to be avoided.
7) That risk management decisions should be targeted to a
specific chemical or application using best available scientific
8) That in situations where substitution of one activity or
product by another is considered, the following conditions be
- The substitute has a comparable function or
- Risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis are performed and
compared for the original activity or product and the alternative
- The economic impact is proportionate to the environmental
- The substitute is not likely to cause an equally or more
burdensome effect on health, safety, and the environment.
9) That decisions to restrict, manage, or substitute factor in
economic and social considerations along with health, safety, and
10) That efforts to reduce uncertainty and make decisions should
depend on reasonable judgments about intended use, the potential of
human or environmental exposure, the likelihood of harm, and the
anticipated benefits of the activity or product.
11) That a credible threat of serious or irreversible harm must
be established before the precautionary principle comes into
play. Industry should not have to demonstrate the absence of
adverse effects as a condition of introducing and activity or
product. The absence of adverse effect is impossible to
prove, and its use as a precondition would stifle industry and have
negative economic consequences.
 "To achieve the three major components of sustainable
development-environment, economy, and society-we think our
interpretation will serve better than outright proscription that
focuses only on the environment. We think in addition that
our Responsible Careâ program satisfies the norm of
sustainable development. Finally, we are well aware of our
vulnerability to terrorist attack. We have beefed up security
at our plants, improved storage facilities, and tried to get
information about facilities and storage out of the public
domain. Unfortunately, right-to-know groups and even
Greenpeace are resisting efforts to limit information by putting it
on their websites. This only helps the terrorists."
 Lucia sat down to strong applause. Amanda liked the
way Lucia turned suspicion of the chemical industry into a positive
statement of accomplishments and service. She wondered,
however, whether Lucia's characterization of the industry fit
actual facts. Was it merely public relations, as one of the
students who asked a question seemed to suggest, or was there real
substance to the stated environmental concern of the
industry? Also, did Lucia reflect the attitudes of managers
and workers or just a few on the Chlorine Chemistry Council?
She would have to investigate these claims further for her senior
 The last speaker was Janet White from the Philosophy
Department at the university. Janet was also the current head
of the Environmental Studies Program. Amanda had a lot of
respect for Janet and wondered how she would draw all this
 Professor White rose and thanked Eric Hansen, Larry Burton,
and Lucia Hernandez for their remarks. She confessed her
befuddlement about how the two paradigms that Larry Burton
described could be put together to achieve a coherent and effective
policy. "The either/or of the situation," she said, "leads to
a tug of war that will not clean up the environment. This
either/or quality of environmental debates troubles me.
Perhaps the best I can do in the time allotted is present the
differences and ask some hard questions.
 "First of all I would like to rename Larry Burton's
paradigms. Instead of paradigms, I would like to call them
perspectives and give them the titles 'conservationist' and
'critical ecology'. Lucia Hernandez and the chlorine industry are
conservationists who think in more anthropocentric fashion that
nature should be used wisely for human good and that industry can
keep risk to acceptable levels with scientific management.
This is a time-honored perspective in the American environmental
movement often associated with Gifford Pinchot in the early
 "Larry comes from an emerging movement in American
environmental thought that takes a biocentric approach and is
critical of corporate efforts to remove environmental hazards by
using scientific management. He is suspicious of management,
of the capacity of scientists and technologists to trace the
effects of over 11,000 organochlorines, and of finding
technological fixes. His foremost interest is the protection
of nature and human health.
 "To some extent common ground exists. Both want to
protect human health and the environment. Both value
nature. Both appreciate 'sound science'. This
common ground may be a starting point for dialogue, but their
differences are profound and raise very important issues.
Where, for example, should we stand on the spectrum between
anthropocentrism and biocentrism? How much should economic
and social good count in environmental decisions? Larry
Burton would seem to count them far less than Lucia Hernandez, but
then we must understand there will be no human economy or social
good without healthy ecosystems. Put in slightly different
terms: Are we willing to do a little or a lot of damage to nature
to sustain our levels of economic growth and consumption?
 "On another front Lucia claims scientists are is in a
position to determine acceptable levels of release for most
toxins. At low levels of toxicity she says the products of
the chlorine industry do not cause appreciable harm to the
environment. Biological systems have a capacity to assimilate
toxins. Larry contends in opposition that almost all
organochlorines have some degree of persistence, bioaccumulation,
and toxicity. Sound science points to harm, he says, so we
should be suspicious of all chlorine-based products and take
precautions unless there is definitive proof no harm exists.
Since there can be no such definitive proof, chlorine should be
phased-out, its production eventually stopped at its source.
 "This is a tough one to settle. Most established
scientists seem to argue with Lucia, but a vocal minority
disagrees. There is a high degree of uncertainty about the
evidence, however. Non-scientists like myself do not have the
tools to determine which side is correct. The waters are
further muddied by the future nature of assessments. Both
sides have the luxury of foretelling the future without fear of
being proven wrong in the present. Verification will only
come later on, if at all, and then the predictors will be long
gone. So predictions easily follow current self-interest and
disguise it. This points to the political nature of all
claims to sound science. Science never determines acceptable
levels. Humans do. Acceptability is an ethical and political
determination. Indeed, both risk assessment and cost/benefit
analysis, however helpful, are ultimately ethical and political, at
least as currently practiced.
 "Still other differences confound our deliberations.
Should we consider chlorine-based chemicals as a class in Larry's
holistic fashion? Or, alternatively, should we assess
persistence, bioaccumulation, and toxicity on a chemical by
chemical basis in Lucia's atomistic or individualistic
approach? Larry's way is doable and reversible but has rather
drastic economic implications in the short run. Lucia's way
is cumbersome and might create a lot of health and environmental
harm in the long run.
 "Who should have the burden of proof? Larry puts it
on industry with his concept of reverse onus and would probably
call for strict regulations to enforce it. That makes some
sense. We test drugs before they go on the market and
generally follow the 'polluter pays' principle in our legal
framework to fix responsibility. Yet most of us benefit from
the goods of chlorine-based products and their relatively low
prices. The task of testing over 11,000 organochlorines would
be costly, may be impossible, and would probably stifle innovation
in the industry.
 "Lucia was vague on where to place the burden. On the
one hand she seemed to say industry regulated by environmental laws
was already testing new chemicals before releasing them to the
market. The Responsible Careâ program is an indication
that industry has accepted some part of the burden of proof.
On the other hand in her interpretation of the precautionary
principle she seemed to be troubled by governmental regulation and
explicitly rejected the imperative that industry demonstrate no
adverse effect before the precautionary principle comes in to
play. Her position is understandable. A strict
application of reverse onus would be at best costly and at worst
shut down her company.
 "Larry also realizes these implications. One thing
for sure, who does the determination of proof and what criteria are
used will be hotly debated. Lawyers, politicians, and
scientists will have plenty of work.
 "Here I should also mention that the Responsible
Careâ program, however well it is doing, is still an industry
initiative. While the industry has articulated admirable codes and
principles, set up a public advisory board, and developed
performance measures, no independent, outside accountability is in
place. We have to take its word at face value. This is like
students grading their own papers. Most of us would be more
willing to accept this were there some system of independent
auditing. We require financial audits. Environmental audits
by outside auditors would seem appropriate as well.
 "As for Lucia's interpretation of sustainability and
precaution, she leaves the industry in full control of vague
definitions and decisions about cost-benefit analysis.
Sustainability needs to be more narrowly defined to ensure
protection of the environment, not qualified by so many other
considerations as to give industry license to avoid change.
The determination of what constitutes precaution needs greater
public input. As Lucia's interpretation now stands, it both
reverses the meaning of precaution and is not very credible to
people like myself.
 "The matter of alternatives to organochlorines is another
difficult issue. Larry calls for phase-out, not an immediate
end to production. He thinks good substitutes exist for
almost all uses. The industry differs, pointing to the
trade-offs involved and the inadequacy of many substitutes.
Lucia worded her interpretation of the precautionary principle on
substitutes in such a way that industry could delay
 "In conclusion, the debate between the chlorine industry
and its most vocal critics is before us. The issues are many
and their resolution critical to the future of ecological systems,
human health, and levels of human consumption. As with most
environmental debates, the two sides talk past each other because
their perspectives and vital interests are so different. They
seem to live in different worlds. Public awareness is weak at
best. Those of us in the middle of this debate have a role to play
in keeping pressure on industry and government to reduce the
release of persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic chemicals to the
environment. This may seem to be siding with the critics, but
without pressure the industry will probably relax.
 "For the students in the audience, get yourselves informed
first, then act. Don't let complexity and conflicting
arguments dampen your spirits. Most important, don't lose
your spirit and your sense of inner integrity. Those are the
wellsprings of environmental action. Spirit and integrity
empower the self especially when they are informed by a good vision
of the future. As the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew
Scriptures puts it: 'Without vision the people perish'. For
some your vision will come from your religious faith. That is
a good source because it is grounded in community, but one whose
concrete expression today must be better informed by holistic
concerns for both justice and ecology."
 With that Janet thanked the audience for attending.
"Have a good Earth Week," she added.
 As Amanda reflected on the forum the next day, she was not
disappointed. The exhortation to get informed struck
home. She had a good working knowledge of the issues and now
felt renewed vigor for her project and future career. Perhaps
this sense of renewal was the spirit Janet was talking about.
She needed it. This senior thesis had a long way to go.
So what should she conclude about the issues raised and which of
the perspectives should she adopt? Should she include a call
for phase-out in her thesis? Both sides had made reasonable
cases. Now it was her turn to make some decisions.
Please note: Introduction by James Childs is unique to JLE. Other
materials taken from
"Christian Environmental Ethics: A Case Method Approach." Orbis
Books, Fall 2003. Used with permission.
© November 2003
Journal of Lutheran Ethics (JLE)
Volume 3, Issue 11
 Joe Thornton, Pandora's Poison:
Chlorine, Health, and a New Environmental Strategy, Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press, 2000.
 Robert L. Stivers prepared this
case and commentary. The case is based on actual events. The names
and places have been changed to protect the privacy of those
 Larry Burton's perspective is based
on the work of Joe Thornton.
 The 1998 Wingspread Declaration
"When an activity raises threats of harm to the environment
or human health, precautionary measures should be taken even if
some cause and effect relationships are not fully established
Article 15 of the Rio Declaration of 1992 reads:
"In order to protect the environment, the precautionary
approach shall be widely applied by states according to their
capabilities. 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
The Greenpeace definition reads:
"Do not admit a substance until you have proof that it will
do no harm to the environment."