Toxic sludge in Genoa decree, repeal now


On New Year’s Eve, in Neapolitan tradition, old things are thrown away to eliminate the evils of the past year and propitiate a better future. A Luigi Di Maio and Sergio Costa are asking us to celebrate the new year by throwing out the window the regulation authorizing the dumping of sludge toxic sludge into the environment, surprisingly inserted in the ‘Genoa decree‘ 2018. Before it is too late for Italy, those who live there and those who draw fruit from its agriculture.

Sludge management in agriculture, the prevailing rules

Legislative Decree. 99/1992 defines ‘sludge’ as ‘
residues from purification processes:

1) Of wastewater from civil settlements only;

(2) of wastewater from civil and production settlements; such sludge must possess characteristics that are not substantially different from those possessed by the sludge referred to in the preceding paragraph;

(3) of wastewater exclusively from production settlements; such sludge must be comparable in quality to that referred to in (1) above.‘ (1)

The use of sludge in agriculture – According to European rules, as transposed in Leg. 99/1992 – is allowed only if they ‘
do not contain toxic and harmful and/or persistent and/or bioaccumulative substances in concentrations harmful to soil, crops, animals, humans and the environment in general’

Agronomic requirements and limitations Of pollutants in sludge, established by Leg. 99/1992 in Annex 1B, however, only considered some pollution factors (heavy metals). Reserving to the regions the power to supplement the regulations, in relation to other contaminants. However, the Lombardy Region has run into a ‘judicial incident’ because the levels of hydrocarbons it tolerates in sludge ‘
suitable for agriculture
‘ (10 g/kg dry matter) were considered excessive and censured by the Regional Administrative Court. (2)

The administrative law judge – in granting the petitions of 65 Lombardy municipalities – annulled the Lombardy Region’s resolution. Insofar as it introduced higher hydrocarbon limits for sludge than those set by the national legislature for soils. Stating that environmental protection is ‘reserved to the exclusive state competence; it follows that the regions cannot dictate a regulation that conflicts with that provided by the state primary sources, lowering the limits of protection provided by the latter‘. (3)

The Constitutional Court and the Council of State
have in turn clarified that ”regions may, yes, intervene in the regulation of the values of pollutants contained in waste (and in sewage sludge in particular), but this is only for the purpose of dictating more stringent standards aimed at ensuring higher levels of protection than the standard ones – applicable to the entire national territory – identified by state legislation‘. (4)

Genoa Decree’, sewage sludge in agriculture, Article 41

The so-called ‘Genoa Decree’
breaks into the delicate matter described above with a regulation dedicated to ‘
Urgent provisions for the management of sewage sludge.
‘, in Article 41. (5)
Which is included in its Title V, ‘Additional emergency interventions‘, after the opening of the ‘Italy Strategy’ steering committee to check the status of implementation of public works on road infrastructure and interventions related to ‘risk factors for the territory‘ (Art. 40), and an appropriation of 2 million euros to reopen the Sente Viaduct (Abruzzo-Molise, Art. 40-bis) to traffic.

Article 41 actually raises the limit values of contaminants allowed on sewage sludge intended for use in agriculture. The scientific community (6) immediately voiced criticism and concern, pointing out that the hydrocarbons allowed in sludge there, 1000 mg/kg, exceeded by twenty times the limit value already set by the Environmental Consolidation Act on industrial soils undergoing remediation, which is 50 mg/kg. (7) And not only that.

Hydrocarbon levels, in the new text, are referred to the total mass of sludge, regardless of its moisture content. Rather than being expressed in terms of dry matter concentration, as is logical and proper for industry standards. A Punchinello’s joke thanks to which materials polluted beyond measure-from bitumen, petroleum substances, waste oil-will be able to be poured into the environment by proceeding to their dilution, instead of the much more onerous cleanup from contaminants.

Other hazardous

are tolerated-in sludge destined for agriculture throughout the country-to an extent even higher than for reclamation. Total chromium, dioxins, PCBs, Toluene. For Toluene, Article 41 allows a limit of 100 mg/kg dry matter (ss), 200 times higher than the limit allowed in residential soils (0.5 mg/kg) and twice the threshold for industrial soils (50 mg/kg). For Chromium VI, Selenium and Arsenic, the limits are the same as for remediation (although, for Arsenic, the 20 mg/kg ss is still twice as much as established by the aforementioned Resolution of the Regional Council in Lombardy).

The ‘reassurances’ proposed by Minister

Sergio Costa
(8) appear totally misplaced in several respects:

– First, the sludge under consideration is not only derived from the purification of wastewater ‘
resulting from civil discharges and agribusiness production facilities.
‘. WHEREAS, the definition of sludge provided in Leg. 99/1992, to which reference is made in Article 41, does not delimit production settlements to the agribusiness sector alone, (9)

– Second, if it is stated that ”
it is necessary to regulate these sludges, as to date they have never been adequately controlled
‘ controls need to be strengthened. But the ‘Genoa Decree’ lacks precise guidance on the controls to be performed, limiting itself to prescribing one every 12 months (!) for only dioxins and toxicologically related substances (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans, PCDD/PCDFs, polychlorinated biphenyls PCBs),

– the minister asserts that the legislation would not be ‘
completely up to date with current scientific knowledge
‘. Well update it then. But certainly not by reducing the level of environmental protection, let alone in the absence of scientific basis. The study by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) cited in the record is 12 years old and concerns only hydrocarbon concentrations in general waste, not in soil. Thus, there is no risk assessment that can justify reducing the level of protection of agricultural soils throughout the country,

– is finally theorized to be the presence of ‘

natural hydrocarbons

‘ contained ‘

in butter, meat fats and olive oil, all products of daily food use

‘ (?). However, one only has to consult the EWC codes of the effluents allowed to sewage treatment plants to realize that C20-C40 hydrocarbons are not found in the edible fats, but rather in bitumen and petroleum substances. A sad patchwork of

fake news

, which the generalist press has been careful not to verify.

Toxic sludge, emergency or special interests? Italy of the fires

No study of

environmental impact

was performed, as it should have been, before passing a regulation that significantly reduces the level of protection of the Italian ecosystem. Nor have surveys been conducted on biodiversity, percolation into groundwater, soil type and quality, and pre-existing pollution levels (which for many pollutants is already significant). Nor has the transfer of contaminants into the food chain been evaluated.

Food safety chemical hazard and other risks – to human and animal health, as well as to environmental protection – have therefore been blatantly ignored. So much for the Italian Constitution and the criteria imposed by the European legislature, according to which risk analysis (in the short, medium and long term) must precede any measure that could even possibly affect human health understood in its broadest sense.

The real emergency would be said to be represented, if anything, by the inability of sewage treatment plants to ensure compliance with limits (defined for the protection of the environment and soils) on wastewater sludge from civil and industrial plants. A very recent study by the University of Milan, among other things, highlighted an additional emerging risk related to the inability of wastewater treatment plants to impede the flow of microplastics.

The sludge, however, note well, are intended for spreading in agriculture to perform fertilizer and/or soil amendment and remedial functions. Raising pollutant limits exposes agriculture and animal husbandry to serious risks of chemical contamination, with potentially catastrophic effects on ‘Made in Italy‘ as well as for the environment and public health. As a result of the release of very high fractions of heavy hydrocarbons (mineral oils, kerosene, waste oil, fuel oil,


.) and phenols.

Italy of the fires needs to be stopped immediately. It is certain that the ’emergency measure’ will enable a multitude of ‘special interest’ carriers to achieve huge savings in the disposal of their pollutants. But the medium-term effect of this measure will only be to externalize costs, from polluters to the community. And it will be too late to remedy it, as an entire country will have to be cleaned up of persistent and bioaccumulative contaminants.

Conclusions, repeal now

Article 41 should be repealed immediately. If the government does not take action we will notify Brussels and the relevant international bodies of these unacceptable and unjustified regulations. Without any cheers for the political oppositions, which by the way have done nothing to prevent the havoc being reported. (10) Unlike a budget maneuver-whose results are inevitably uncertain, as they depend on a plurality of factors, including exogenous ones-the measure under consideration is sure to produce nefarious effects on the ecosystem, public health the food chain.

To err is human, to persevere is unacceptable. It is now incumbent on Politics, whatever its color, to immediately address the need to shelter us and our children from a potentially unparalleled disaster. Therefore, Article 41 of Law 130/18 should be repealed and the issue should be addressed with measures commensurate with its strategic relevance, based on scientific assessments of known and emerging risks (e.g., microplastics).

The emergency, if effective, must be addressed at the source. Discharge controls, separation of flows at source, verification of wastewater treatment plant capacities in relation to their potential and identified risks, and intervention plans and programs. An organic regulatory review may accompany and follow this path, rather than precede it, to achieve goals of maximum protection of public rights.


Dario Dongo


(1) See Legislative Decree. 27.1.1992 n. 99, ‘

Implementation of Directive 86/278/EEC on the protection of the environment, in particular the soil, when sewage sludge is used in agriculture

‘, Article 2.2.a

(2) V. Lombardy Regional Council resolution 11.9.17 no. X/7076,

(3) See TAR Lombardy, Section III, judgment 20.7.18,

(4) Cf. Constitutional Court, ruling 5.3.09, no. 61; Council of State, Section IV, judgments 27.6.17 no. 3146 and 10.7.17 no. 3365

(5) See DL 28.9.18 no. 109, ‘Urgent provisions for the city of Genoa, the security of the national infrastructure and transport network, the earthquake events of 2016 and 2017, labor and other emergencies‘. Converted with amendments into law 16.11.18 no. 130

(6) See thearticle authored by Patrizia Gentilini., a medical oncologist and hematologist, member of the Scientific Committee of ISDE (InternationalSociety of Doctors for Environment),

(7) See d.lgs. 3.4.2006 n. 152, ‘

Environmental regulations

(8) See the post 23.10.18 by Minister Sergio Costa on his Facebook page

(9) See definition cited in Note 1.

(10) This is evidenced by the writer’s previous complaints against Paolo Gentiloni, Maurizio Martina, Carlo Calenda and Andrea Olivero for various abuses and lies to the detriment of the Italian food supply chain. See, among others, the articlesà-sul-niet-di-bruxelles-denuncia-penale-a-gentiloni-co,,,