Comparison of Systems and Single-Medium Approaches in Environmental Risk-Based Decision Making: A Case Study of a Sludge Management Problem

Hwong-Wen Ma
Douglas J. Crawford-Brown

DOI: 10.2190/8KP6-H4CV-5BB7-LP8U


The traditional single-medium approach to environmental management mitigates problems in one environmental medium at a time without considering interactions between different media. the management strategies selected from the single-medium approach may, therefore, simply shift problems between media. Alternatively, a systems approach advocates focusing on the environmental system as a source of risk, and selecting risk management strategies based on minimization of the composite risk from all pathways. However, entrenched interests and organizational structures associated with the current regulatory system, and the computational complexity of a systems approach, present obstacles for the adoption of a systems approach. These difficulties raise the question as to whether, or under what conditions, a systems approach is needed for improving decisions significantly. This study combines multimedia risk analysis and an optimization framework to develop a methodology for comparing the merits of the two approaches. We then apply the methodology to a sludge management decision problem and demonstrate that there are many cases in which the systems approach leads to the selection of optimal management strategies that differ from those using a single-medium approach.

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