, Volume 2, Issue 1, pp 73-78
Date: 05 Sep 2003

Legitimacy of tolerating limited environmental pollution? The case for natural attenuation

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Abstract

Degradations of environmental quality often pose severe harms or at least adverse effects to individuals and societies. Perceiving any environmental pollution thus appears to be connected with an implicit claim for its prompt and complete removal. For example, the oil-spill from the "Prestige" accident at the western Spanish shoreline is surely still in everyone's mind, where—in a somewhat Sysiphos-effort—a lot of helpers tried to remove the huge masses of oil mud, washed repeatedly ashore. However, alternative rehabilitation conceptions are also conceivable for certain pollution problems, which may be less unhealthy and possibly more efficient. Among them, taking advantage of natural occurring processes, which are grouped in this context as "natural attenuation" (NA), is an emerging and challenging but possibly also a questionable approach. NA as remediation strategy is, therefore, often discussed controversially among experts and actors as well as in the public (Teutsch/Rügner 2000). This is partly due to still open scientific or technical questions but also due to legitimacy problems of natural attenuation on ethical and juridical levels (Steffens et al. 2002; Heinz 2002). Therefore, a balanced view on adequate natural attenuation seems to be necessary. The following analysis will review NA as rehabilitation means from the normative perspective, giving some general statements—and thus orientation—for public policy making as well as for the administrative level.