an official journal of: published by:
Editor in Chief: RAFFAELLO COSSU


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

  • 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 and George Varghese


Released under CC BY-NC-ND

Copyright: © 2022 CISA Publisher


Arabi Z, Rinklebe J, El-Naggar A, Hou D, Sarmah AK, Moreno-Jiménez E. (Im)mobilization of arsenic, chromium, and nickel in soils via biochar: A meta-analysis. Environ Pollut. 2021 Oct 1;286:117199.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2021.117199

Avadí, A., 2020. Screening LCA of French organic amendments and fertilisers. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 25, 698–718.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-020-01732-W

Black A, McLaren RG, Reichman SM, Speir TW, Condron LM. Evaluation of soil metal bioavailability estimates using two plant species (L. perenne and T. aestivum) grown in a range of agricultural soils treated with biosolids and metal salts. Environ Pollut. 159(6):1523-35.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2011.03.004

Brockmann, D., Pradel, M., Hélias, A., 2018. Agricultural use of organic residues in life cycle assessment: Current practices and proposal for the computation of field emissions and of the nitrogen mineral fertilizer equivalent. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 133, 50–62.
DOI 10.1016/J.RESCONREC.2018.01.034

Buta, M., Hubeny, J., Zieliński, W., Harnisz, M., Korzeniewska, E., 2021. Sewage sludge in agriculture – the effects of selected chemical pollutants and emerging genetic resistance determinants on the quality of soil and crops – a review. Ecotoxicol. Environ. Saf. 214.
DOI 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2021.112070

Butti, L., and Toniolo, B., The cost of environmental protection under court scrutiny worldwide, in Rivista giuridica dell’ambiente, 2018, n. 1, p. 59

Butti, L., The precautionary principle in environmental law, Giuffré, 2007

Charlton A., Sakrabani R., McGrath S.P., Campbell C.D., 2016a. Long-term Impact of Sewage Sludge Application on biovar : An Evaluation Using Meta-Analysis. J Environ Qual. 45(5):1572-1587.
DOI 10.2134/jeq2015.12.0590

Charlton A., Sakrabani R., Tyrrel S., Rivas Casado M., McGrath S.P., Crooks B., Cooper P., Campbell C.D., 2016b. Long-term impact of sewage sludge application on soil microbial biomass: An evaluation using meta-analysis. Environ Pollut. 219:1021-1035.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.07.050

Chiew, Y.L., Spångberg, J., Baky, A., Hansson, P.A., Jönsson, H., 2015. Environmental impact of recycling digested food waste as a fertilizer in agriculture—A case study. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 95, 1–14.
DOI 10.1016/J.RESCONREC.2014.11.015

Chiu, S.L.H., Lo, I.M.C., Woon, K.S., Yan, D.Y.S., 2016. Life cycle assessment of waste treatment strategy for sewage sludge and food waste in Macau: perspectives on environmental and energy production performance. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 176–189.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-015-1008-2

Collivignarelli, M.C., Abbà, A., Frattarola, A., Miino, M.C., Padovani, S., Katsoyiannis, I., Torretta, V., 2019. Legislation for the reuse of biosolids on agricultural land in Europe: Overview. Sustain. 11, 1–22.
DOI 10.3390/su11216015

Collivignarelli, M.C., Canato, M., Abbà, A., Miino, M.C, 2019b. Biosolids: What are the different types of reuse? J. Cleaner Prod. 238, 117844
DOI 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.117844

Collivignarelli, M.C., Miino, M.C, Caccamo, F.M., Milanese, C., 2021. Microplastics in sewage sludge: A known but underrated pathway in wastewater treatment plants. Sustain. 13, 1–23.
DOI 10.3390/su132212591

Collivignarelli, M.C., Riganti, V., Abbà, A., 2018. La pratica del riutilizzo agricolo dei fanghi di depurazione: dall’origine in impianto al recupero finale. Published by Università degli Studi di Pavia, Dipartimento di Ingegneria Civile e Architettura

Commission of the European Communities (COM), 2000. Communication from the Commission of 2 February 2000 on the precautionary principle

Di Maria, F., Micale, C., Contini, S., 2016. Energetic and environmental sustainability of the co-digestion of sludge with bio-waste in a life cycle perspective. Appl. Energy 171, 67–76.
DOI 10.1016/J.APENERGY.2016.03.036

Directive 2008/98/EC (WFD 2008) of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 November 2008 on waste and repealing certain Directives

El-naggar, A., Ahmed, N., Mosa, A., Khan, N., Yousaf, B., Sharma, A., Sarkar, B., Cai, Y., Chang, S.X., 2021. Nickel in soil and water : Sources , biogeochemistry , and remediation using biochar. J. Hazard. Mater. 419, 126421.
DOI 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126421

El-naggar, A., Chen, Z., Jiang, W., Cai, Y., Chang, S.X., 2022. Biochar effectively remediates Cd contamination in acidic or coarse- and medium-textured soils : A global meta-analysis. Chem. Eng. J. 442, 136225.
DOI 10.1016/j.cej.2022.136225

European Commission, 1986. Protection of the Environment, and in particular of the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture. Off. J. Eur. Communities 4, 6–12. Sludge Directive (86/278/EEC)

European Commission, 2021. Sewage sludge use in farming – evaluation [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 6.21.22)

Eurostat, 2022. Sewage sludge production and disposal from urban wastewater (in dry substance (d.s))’ (ten00030). Accessed 2022-04-15,

Feng, L., Luo, J., Chen, Y., 2015. Dilemma of sewage sludge treatment and disposal in china. Environ. Sci. Technol. 49, 4781–4782.
DOI 10.1021/acs.est.5b01455

Fijalkowski, K., Rorat, A., Grobelak, A., Kacprzak, M.J., 2017. The presence of contaminations in sewage sludge – The current situation. J. Environ. Manage. 203, 1126–1136.
DOI 10.1016/j.jenvman.2017.05.068

Fu, Q., Sanganyado, E., Ye, Q., Gan, J., 2016. Meta-analysis of biosolid effects on persistence of triclosan and triclocarban in soil. Environ. Pollut. 210, 137–144.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2015.12.003

Gianico, A., Braguglia, C.M., Gallipoli, A., Montecchio, D., Mininni, G., 2021. Land application of biosolids in europe: Possibilities, con-straints and future perspectives. Water (Switzerland) 13.
DOI 10.3390/w13010103

Grenni P., 2022 Antimicrobial resistance in rivers: a review of the genes detected and new challenges. Environ Toxicol Chem 41 (3), 687–714.
DOI 10.1002/etc.5289

Harder, R., Peters, G.M., Molander, S., Ashbolt, N.J., Svanström, M., 2016. Including pathogen risk in life cycle assessment: the effect of modelling choices in the context of sewage sludge management. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 60–69.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-015-0996-2

Harder, R., Peters, G.M., Svanström, M., Khan, S.J., Molander, S., 2017. Estimating human toxicity potential of land application of sewage sludge: the effect of modelling choices. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 22, 731–743.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-016-1182-X

Heimersson, S., Svanström, M., Laera, G., Peters, G., 2016. Life cycle inventory practices for major nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon flows in wastewater and sludge management systems. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 1197–1212.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-016-1095-8

Herrera, A., D’Imporzano, G., Zilio, M., Pigoli, A., Rizzi, B., Meers, E., Schouman, O., Schepis, M., Barone, F., Giordano, A., Adani, F., 2022. Environmental Performance in the Production and Use of Recovered Fertilizers from Organic Wastes Treated by Anaerobic Digestion vs Synthetic Mineral Fertilizers. ACS Sustain. Chem. Eng. 10, 986–997.
DOI 10.1021/acssuschemeng.1c07028

Hospido, A., Moreira, M.T., Martín, M., Rigola, M., Feijoo, G., 2005. Environmental Evaluation of Different Treatment Processes for Sludge from Urban Wastewater Treatments: Anaerobic Digestion versus Thermal Processes (10 pp). Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 2005 105 10, 336–345.
DOI 10.1065/LCA2005.05.210

Hudcová, H., Vymazal, J., Rozkošný, M., 2019. Present restrictions of sewage sludge application in agriculture within the European Union. Soil Water Res. 14, 104–120.
DOI 10.17221/36/2018-SWR

IPTS (Institute for Prospective Technological Studies), 2014. End-of- waste criteria for biodegradable waste subjected to biological treatment (compost & digestate): Technical proposals—Final report 2013, European Commission, JRC scientific and policy reports, ISBN 978-92-79-35062-7

Kaviani Rad, A.; Astaykina, A.; Streletskii, R.; Afsharyzad, Y.; Etesami, H.; Zarei, M.; Balasundram, S.K., 2022. An Overview of Antibiotic Resistance and Abiotic Stresses Affecting Antimicrobial Resistance in Agricultural Soils. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health, 19, 4666.
DOI 10.3390/ijerph19084666

Kelessidis, A., Stasinakis, A.S., 2012. Comparative study of the methods used for treatment and final disposal of sewage sludge in European countries. Waste Manag. 32, 1186–1195.
DOI 10.1016/j.wasman.2012.01.012

Kim, M., Li, L.Y., Gorgy, T., Grace, J.R., 2017. Review of contamination of sewage sludge and amended soils by polybrominated diphenyl ethers based on meta-analysis *. Environ. Pollut. 220, 753–765.
DOI 10.1016/j.envpol.2016.10.053

Kirchmann, H., Börjesson, G., Kätterer, T., Cohen, Y., 2017. From agricultural use of sewage sludge to nutrient extraction: A soil science outlook. Ambio 46, 143–154.
DOI 10.1007/s13280-016-0816-3

Kriebel, D., Tickner J., Epstein, P., Lemons, J., Levins, R., Loechler, E.L., Quinn, M., Rudel, R., Schettler T., Stoto, M., 2021. The precautionary principle in environmental science. Environ. Health Persp. 109 (9), 871-876

Lang, A., Proportionality Analysis by the German Federal Constitutional Court.

Lavrik, M., 2022. Customary Norms, General Principles of International Environmental Law, and Assisted Migration as a Tool for Biodiversity Adaptation to Climate Change. Jus. Cogens.
DOI 10.1007/s42439-022-00055-8

Liu, J., Liu, S., Smith, S.R., 2021. A contemporary and historical analysis of the trace element composition of sewage sludge in the United Kingdom. Water Environ. J. 35, 892–901.
DOI 10.1111/wej.12677

Madikizela, L.M., Botha, T.L., Kamika, I., Msagati, T.A.M., 2022. Uptake, Occurrence, and Effects of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs and Analgesics in Plants and Edible Crops. J. Agric. Food Chem. 70, 34–45.
DOI 10.1021/acs.jafc.1c06499

Mininni, G., Blanch, A.R., Lucena, F., Berselli, S., 2015. EU policy on sewage sludge utilization and perspectives on new approaches of sludge management. Environ. Sci. Pollut. Res. 22, 7361–7374.
DOI 10.1007/s11356-014-3132-0

Muñoz, I., Otte, N., Van Hoof, G., Rigarlsford, G., 2017. A model and tool to calculate life cycle inventories of chemicals discharged down the drain. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 22, 986–1004.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-016-1189-3

Olofsson, U., Bignert, A., Haglund, P., 2012. Time-trends of metals and organic contaminants in sewage sludge. Water Res. 46, 4841–4851.
DOI 10.1016/j.watres.2012.05.048

Pettersson, M., Johansson, O., 2022. How cautious should we be ? the role of the precautionary principle in the regulation of sewage sludge in Sweden, in: SUM2022. 6th Symposium on Circular Economy and Urban Mining, Capri, Italy, 18-20 May 2022

Siegert, M.W., Lehmann, A., Emara, Y., Finkbeiner, M., 2020. Addressing the use and end-of-life phase of pharmaceutical products in life cycle assessment. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 25, 1436–1454.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-019-01722-7

Silva, C.L., Jenkins-Smith, H.C. 2007. The Precautionary Principle in Context: U.S. and E.U. Scientists’ Prescriptions for Policy in the Face of Uncertainty. Social Science Quarterly, 88(3), 640–664.

Silva, S., Rodrigues, J. A., Coelho, M. R., Martins, A., Cardoso, E., Cardoso, V. V., Benoliel, M. J., Almeida, C. M. M., 2021. Occurrence of pharmaceutical active compounds in sewage sludge from two urban wastewater treatment plants and their potential behaviour in agricultural soils. Environ. Sci.: Water Res. Technol. 7, 969-982. .
DOI 10.1039/D1EW00132A

Suh, Y.J., Rousseaux, P., 2002. An LCA of alternative wastewater sludge treatment scenarios. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 35, 191–200.
DOI 10.1016/S0921-3449(01)00120-3

ten Hoeve, M., Bruun, S., Naroznova, I., Lemming, C., Magid, J., Jensen, L.S., Scheutz, C., 2018. Life cycle inventory modeling of phosphorus substitution, losses and crop uptake after land application of organic waste products. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 23, 1950–1965.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-017-1421-9

Teodosiu, C., Barjoveanu, G., Sluser, B.R., Popa, S.A.E., Trofin, O., 2016. Environmental assessment of municipal wastewater discharges: a comparative study of evaluation methods. Int. J. Life Cycle Assess. 21, 395–411.
DOI 10.1007/S11367-016-1029-5

The Guardian, 2022. Maine bans use of sewage sludge on farms to reduce risk of PFAS poisoning.

Tidåker, P., Kärrman, E., Baky, A., Jönsson, H., 2006. Wastewater management integrated with farming –an environmental systems analysis of a Swedish country town. Resour. Conserv. Recycl. 47, 295–315.
DOI 10.1016/J.RESCONREC.2005.12.003

Van den Belt, Henk, and Bart Gremmen. "Between precautionary principle and “sound science”: distributing the burdens of proof." Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics 15, no. 1 (2002): 103-122

Wang, Jinhua, Wang, L., Zhu, L., Wang, Jun, Xing, B., 2022. Antibiotic resistance in agricultural soils: Source, fate, mechanism and attenuation strategy. Crit. Rev. Environ. Sci. Technol. 52, 847–889.
DOI 10.1080/10643389.2020.1835438

Wang, P., Lombi, E., Menzies, N.W., Zhao, F.-J., Kopittke, P.M., 2018. Engineered silver nanoparticles in terrestrial environments: a meta-analysis shows that the overall environmental risk is small. Environ. Sci. Nano 5.
DOI 10.1039/c8en00486b

Wijesekara, H., Colyvas, K., Rippon, P., Hoang, S.A., Bolan, N.S., Manna, M.C., Thangavel, R., Seshadri, B., Vithanage, M., Awad, Y.M., Surapaneni, A., Saint, C., Tian, G., Torri, S., Ok, Y.S., Kirkham, M.B., 2021. Carbon sequestration value of biosolids applied to soil: A global meta-analysis. J. Environ. Manage. 284, 112008.
DOI 10.1016/j.jenvman.2021.112008

Yang, L., Liu, W., Zhu, D., Hou, J., Ma, T., Wu, L., Zhu, Y., Christie, P., 2018. Application of biosolids drives the diversity of antibiotic resistance genes in soil and lettuce at harvest. Soil Biol. Biochem. 122, 131-140

Yaseen, A., Assad, I., Sharjeel, M., Zaffar, M., Ullah, S., 2022. A global review of microplastics in wastewater treatment plants : Understanding their occurrence , fate and impact. Environ. Res. 212, 113258.
DOI 10.1016/j.envres.2022.113258

Zhang, Yu, Cheng, D., Xie, J., Zhang, Yuting, Wan, Y., Zhang, Yueqiang, 2022. Chemosphere Impacts of farmland application of antibiotic-contaminated manures on the occurrence of antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistance genes in soil : A meta-analysis study. Chemosphere 300, 134529.
DOI 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2022.134529