The issue of the role of the precautionary principle in the management of sewage sludge in the European Un- ion is giving rise to much debate, and the arguments put forward are often contradictory. In addition, the process in which the precautionary principle is applied is character- ized by a need to balance the social and economic impacts of bans or restrictions, with the necessity of reducing the risk of adverse effects on the environment, including hu- man, animal and plant health. Based on the premise of the precautionary principle - to guide decisions in case of uncertainty - some points can be highlighted. One is the need for knowledge. With more knowledge, uncertainty decreases, and thus the need to ap- ply the precautionary principle; in such cases, it may be suf- ficient to prescribe suitable precautionary measures that reduce the negative effects of the activity. More knowledge may, however, not always be achievable; a certain degree of uncertainty is likely to prevail even for less complex is- sues than the effects of the use of sewage sludge in agri- culture. If that is the case, a recourse to the precautionary principle is an appropriate way to assess whether the in- dividual activity, in that context, entails risks that it should not be permitted. However, more information as a (partial) answer to the question of what role the precautionary principle should play also points to the need to both acquire and dissem- inate this important knowledge. This in turn requires not only research and resources but also dialog, both between different scientific areas and between science and practice. The scientific community has yet to reach a shared po- sition on this topic, and in the current column, two extreme alternatives have been discussed. No joint message can therefore be conveyed to authorities, farmers, or the public regarding the risks of using sewage sludge as fertilizer.

The role of the precautionary principle in the agricultural reuse of sewage sludge from urban wastewater treatment plants

Luciano Cavani;Claudio Ciavatta;
2022

Abstract

The issue of the role of the precautionary principle in the management of sewage sludge in the European Un- ion is giving rise to much debate, and the arguments put forward are often contradictory. In addition, the process in which the precautionary principle is applied is character- ized by a need to balance the social and economic impacts of bans or restrictions, with the necessity of reducing the risk of adverse effects on the environment, including hu- man, animal and plant health. Based on the premise of the precautionary principle - to guide decisions in case of uncertainty - some points can be highlighted. One is the need for knowledge. With more knowledge, uncertainty decreases, and thus the need to ap- ply the precautionary principle; in such cases, it may be suf- ficient to prescribe suitable precautionary measures that reduce the negative effects of the activity. More knowledge may, however, not always be achievable; a certain degree of uncertainty is likely to prevail even for less complex is- sues than the effects of the use of sewage sludge in agri- culture. If that is the case, a recourse to the precautionary principle is an appropriate way to assess whether the in- dividual activity, in that context, entails risks that it should not be permitted. However, more information as a (partial) answer to the question of what role the precautionary principle should play also points to the need to both acquire and dissem- inate this important knowledge. This in turn requires not only research and resources but also dialog, both between different scientific areas and between science and practice. The scientific community has yet to reach a shared po- sition on this topic, and in the current column, two extreme alternatives have been discussed. No joint message can therefore be conveyed to authorities, farmers, or the public regarding the risks of using sewage sludge as fertilizer.
Alberto Pivato, Giovanni Beggio, Tiziano Bonato, Luciano Butti, Luciano Cavani, Claudio Ciavatta, Francesco Di Maria, Rosario Ferrara, Paola Grenni, Oskar Johansson, Lorenzo Maggi, Anna Mazzi, Wei Peng, Federico Peres, Maria Pettersson, Andrea Schievano, George Varghese
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11585/890729
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