Are we more or less exposed to hazardous substances than in the past?
Let’s confront these questions without indulging in any alarmism. On the contrary, I would like to underline the need to always using contextually two instruments: one is the awareness of RISKS to which we are all exposed in societies of old industrialisation; the other is given by existence of SOLUTIONS already been tested or are innovative, but which allow us to deal with these problems without having to start from scratches every time.
The growing dependency on technological objects, either in the number and in their complexity and abstractiveness, the exponential growth of the amount of wastes produced locally and at at the global scale, and the increasing complexity of the social fabric produced two type of answers:
- the birth of the scientific discipline known ad Risk Analysis, which in the most diverse fields estimates environmental and public health risks, in a fashion as much as possible objective, measurable and verifiable;
- the spreading among citizens, both expert and non-expert, of an increasing perception of technological and industrial risks, and of the social risks connected to those.
The scientific evaluation of the risk of exposure to hazardous substances – Risk Analysis – is a tool supporting risk REDUCTION and RESIDUAL RISK MANAGEMENT strategies. But it is vastly demonstrated that the opinions of risk experts are not sufficient to policy makers to make decisions on the siting of an industrial plant – be it either a chemical industry or a waste thermal treatment plant – or to carry out the interventions for the remediation of polluted sites.
The reasons for this paralysis are many and complex. On one side there are decades of industrial practices that have, sometimes irreversibly, modified the territory, the landscape, the historical settlements of a community. On the other there is a heightened awareness of the limits of the changes that can be imposed on the environment before its quality is deteriorated and our health affected. Even though there is the tendency to forget that this increased awareness is also the results of decades of environmental battles that have already gathered successes and have lead to an effective evolution of environmental policies and public controls.