Conference: “The Chemical Industry and The Environment” 13th. November 1990
GLOBAL ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
by Dr. John Cox CEng FIChemE MConsE
Two early experiences colour my attitude to environmental issues - although neither, at the time, seemed especially significant.
Shortly after I started work, 30 years ago, I was assigned to a troublesome plant which, at the bottom of a very long list, was recorded as having ‘an effluent problem’. This low priority, I learnt, was because “the Golden Valve could deal with it”.
The “Golden Valve” was a sluice gate that, for a period of about four hours, could retain the entire liquid effluent on site. It had been installed for emergencies, to prevent out-of-spec plant effluent reaching the river and to allow time for sampling and special or extra treatment. Although occasionally still used as originally intended, its more common use was for a quite different purpose.
In practice, few plant supervisors care to admit to operating problems and, when upsets occurred, many preferred to ditch the problem into the river. If they did use the panic button they were more likely to receive a reprimand for maloperation than praise for containment of the effluent. So the system fell into disuse.
When I joined the company, Gate Security was the most regular user. Whenever an Inspector from the river authority arrived, the panic button would be used to alert the workforce. If the plant operators then thought it necessary, the Golden Valve would be closed and a Process Water valve opened, in time to ensure that the Inspector’s sample was inside the Consent Limits.
I would like to believe that a new chemical engineering graduate today would rebel against such obvious irresponsibility. Looking back, I can’t recall that I was troubled - merely relieved that one of my problems could be put on the back-burner. This was the big wide real world of industry and, like any new graduate, I was there to learn. It was years before I appreciated the full enormity of what we were doing.
My second formative experience occurred a few months later, at a different site, when I was assigned directly and specifically to work on a site effluent problem. On and off, over the course of 6-9 months, changes in equipment and operating procedures were made with varying success. Then, overnight, the problem vanished. Management had struck a deal with a waste disposal operative and all we had to do was pump our effluent into his tankers when he arrived, 3-4 times each day.
Whilst I do remember wondering how an apparently uneducated lorry driver was able to succeed where three highly-trained chemical engineers had failed, the problems of my next assignment quickly replaced this concern. The truth only dawned years later when I learnt that this same “waste disposal” firm had been prosecuted for dumping effluent down a disused mineshaft. In retrospect it is obvious that our company management knew what was taking place - but were not sufficiently socially-conscious to persevere with their in-house efforts.
In both instances, ‘out-of-site’ meant ‘out-of-mind’. Times have changed. Few plant managements would be as irresponsible today and few chemical engineers so naive as to accept such procedures without questions. There is a widespread recognition of the link between the effluents of our workplace and the quality of our environment.
I mention these experiences because control measures are implemented by plant workers who are not pollution specialists and who are subject to all the usual pressures of employment. The primary responsibility for pollution control rests with design engineers whose goal must be to develop process routes that produce no effluent at all.
With no disrespect to anyone present today, effluent treatment - however clean, efficient, sophisticated, simple or economical - is an admission of failure. I will return to this theme many times but, for the moment merely comment that elimination is the only truly fail-safe guarantee against operator error or misuse.
In this Overview, I shall begin with global issues and narrow to specifics with, as necessary, digressions on related issues. I also will take this rare opportunity afforded me, to comment on the historical and socio-political context and to float ideas for the quantification of environmental hazards.
Current concern for the environment has a long pedigree - the first English law that prohibited the dumping of polluted waste into rivers was adopted in 1388. When I was in school, our image of the chemical industry was that of a former major polluter which, more recently, had cleaned up its act. Post-war clean air legislation made a visible improvement and was largely the reason for this shift in our public image.
The current perception is very different. Whilst the focus has shifted from the visually obvious smoke and dust, the Seveso and Bhopal accidents (and others) and the effects of acid rain over Europe and of radioactive discharges into the Irish Sea all have heightened fears of unseen poisonous emissions.
In common with most professional chemical engineers, I retain an optimistic faith in our ability to find technological answers - even to the most intractable of problems. In my lifetime we have seen real advances in pollution control and, as a profession, we have a far greater awareness of our responsibilities towards a cleaner environment. I see no reason why this progress should not continue.
But optimism is not synonymous with blind faith. In dismissing the uninformed fears of a sceptical public, we must not minimise the real problems and the magnitude of the challenge. My first digression will be to outline the Gala concept, as a backdrop to discussion of the impact of the chemical industry on the global environment.
The essence of the Gaia concept is that all living systems are part of an unitary organism which maintains a stable environment throughout a large number of feedback processes. The most well-known (the carbon, oxygen and nitrogen cycles) have been studied for many years as mass balances but only recently as interactive heat and mass balances which both control and modify our climate.
Before this idea took hold, scientists wondered at the lucky coincidence that the temperature of the earth’s surface and the oxygen content of the atmosphere are so convenient for our life forms. We now know that both are a consequence of the interaction between photosynthesis and respiration and between decay and growth - so that these feedback mechanisms actually determine and control our environment. This apparent “coincidence” is an inevitable outcome of the evolution of a life-friendly environment in parallel with environment-friendly life forms.
Although self-regulating feedback mechanisms provide some assurance that our present environment is reasonably stable, there could be more than one stable state. The danger from global warming is not only from the prospect of a 3°C rise per century and a consequent rise in sea levels (catastrophic as that will be for Bangladesh, Holland and many other low-lying populated areas) but that this could trigger radical changes to the entire global environment.
This has happened at least once before. In the early millenniums of our planet there were fewer life forms and, hence, fewer natural controls. Life forms developed in a C02-rich atmosphere and became the dominant motors for environmental change. This success polluted their own life-giving C02-rich air with poisonous oxygen and created the oxygen-rich atmosphere we now enjoy today.
The lesson is obvious: our continuation as a species depends on our remaining within the limitations of the existing stable and balanced life-sustaining Gala system. We must not allow our arrogance as a conscious species to lead us to extinction.
As chemical engineers we are uniquely well-qualified to appreciate the validity of the Gala concept and to explore the details of this fascinating and dynamic heat and mass balance. We should respond to the challenge of pressure groups by examining the impact of new chemicals in this global setting. It is neither valid nor wise to dismiss each new incursion with a plea of minimal impact.
Our image problem has been caused and exacerbated by the unwillingness of many chemical engineers and company managements to admit a potential environmental danger to our activities and, sadly, an arrogance towards the public which can be especially misplaced in the aftermath of an accident. Commercial secrecy and a less than forthcoming attitude by many companies has further increased public anxiety.
As human beings, chemical engineers are hurt by public suspicion and resent this outside scrutiny. Within office walls, a consensus blames the public for its lack of appreciation of our efforts and the benefits they receive. I share these feelings but have to say, without any equivocation whatsoever, that we have to become far more trusting of the public if we are to improve our image. This leads me to my second digression.
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION
Under the heading: “How much should the public know?”, a recent issue of The Chemical Engineer reported that the UK Health & Safety Executive “believes that members of the public need to understand better the nature and extent of possible risks from local industry” and suggested “that the main responsibility for providing access to information should rest with firms as it is they who know best” and it is “difficult for the (HSE) Executive to establish which is commercially sensitive”.
This contrasts with the US approach. America has a long and proud tradition of open government and Freedom of Information which continues in the TOXNET system -a national database for recording data on effluents.
The TOXNET legislation obliges companies to record toxic effluents for a national IBM-compatable data-base system which is readily available for public scrutiny - at a very modest fee. In time we may expect many more industrialised countries to adopt similar systems. Whilst elsewhere in the world, notably in the UK, the public is denied information with pleas of “too difficult”, “too expensive” or “commercial secrecy”, TOXNET already has been operating for three years.
The implications go beyond the USA. The world of industry is multinational and few major companies do not have branches, subsidiaries or parent companies in the USA - often with similar or identical production plants. With a little initiative, any member of the public may access relevant US data on its local chemical plant. Only a few days ago, I had no problem obtaining data on potential effluents from a group of UK chemical plants by examining TOXNET data for sister plants in the USA.
To illustrate the information that is readily available in the US on TOXNET, part of a typical entry has been photocopied and circulated (see last page).
It is noteworthy that less than 30 of over 20,000 companies invoked commercial secrecy when supplying their data for TOXNET and that in every case this was merely in respect to the precise chemical name, not the data on effluent discharges. As technology knows no national boundaries, it may be presumed that there are no pressing commercial reasons to justify withholding similar information elsewhere.
Apart from the anxiety created by excessive commercial secrecy, three broad areas of public concern have a genuine technological content and also should concern chemical engineers - Plant Safety, Product Safety and Waste Disposal. I will say a few words on all three although, at this Conference, the third will receive most attention.
Whilst usually quantified in terms of risk to life and damage to plant and equipment, Plant Safety also has an environmental dimension. The (UK) Health & Safety Executive make this point explicit, in their guide to the regulations for Major Hazards Installations:
“It should be noted that, in most cases, precautions taken to protect man
should also protect the environment. However, the possibility cannot be
excluded of a major accident - that affects the environment and not man.”
A number of spectacular accidents in the 1970s and 1980s have made Safety a public issue. Whereas 1974 Flixborough explosion and the 1979 Bantry Bay fire raised public awareness of the risks to life and property, Chernobyl, Seveso and the Exxon Valdiz disasters also highlighted the risk to the Environment.
The Chernobyl accident of 26 April 1986 sent a cloud of radioactive material over most of Europe. In the immediate vicinity, an inner zone will remain uninhabited for decades: an outer zone of 30 kilometres from the plant may be reoccupied in a few years time. Restrictions on agriculture and livestock extend further again and, four years later and thousands of miles distant, Welsh hill farmers still may not sell their sheep on the open market - although there is some suspicion that the Trawsfynydd and Wylfa nuclear power plants are an additional cause of this particular radioactivity.
The Bhopal accident of 3rd. December 1985 killed more than 2000 people and most attention since has been concentrated on its causation and the attempts by Union Carbide to evade its clear responsibility for the design failings and operational shortcomings. It is worth noting however that the environmental damage enveloped a population of tens of thousands.
On 10th. July 1976, at Seveso in Italy, dioxins were released into the atmosphere. It was 7 days before the authorities were told and 10 days before 700 people living nearby were evacuated. 70,000 animals later died or had to be destroyed.
In all these three cases the accidents caused long-term environmental damage but, because people died, these were the aspects that received most publicity and remain in the public memory. Relatively few accidents have pollution as their main outcome.
On 1st. November 1986, at Basle in Switzerland, 30 tonnes of herbicides and pesticides washed into the Rhine during fire-fighting operations at a warehouse. Fish were killed and drinking water supplies were affected downriver for several hundred miles before discharging to the North Sea.
Oil spillages, as from the Torrey Canyon and Exxon Valdiz, are best-known for their effect on the environment - because, with no loss of human life to occupy media attention, the visual pollution received all the publicity. Many less visible but equally damaging toxic releases, notably when a toxic waste incinerator suffers an operational problem, receive far less media coverage.
I turn next a subject which until recently received very little attention but which should cause even greater concern - when plants operate smoothly but the commodities they produce have unforeseen harmful properties.
Europe’s first municipal water supplies were built by the Romans and were a major advance in public hygiene and health. Unfortunately, by using lead pipes, they also created a new public health hazard - the first of a continuing list of product disasters. More recent examples include the use of asbestos (in all its forms), DDT (and its substitutes), aluminium (for water treatment), tobacco and a variety of pharmaceutical products and many many more.
What Flixborough did for Safety in the 1970s, the Ozone Hole has done for the the Environment in the 1980s. The term “ozone-friendly” encapsulates public concern. There is now, as never before, a questioning of the need for products that may have harmful side-effects.
In this review, the CFC disaster must take first place. Its implications go far beyond the issue of CFCs as such and provide a useful starting point to generalise on the limitations that the natural biological world imposes on our unatural chemical industry. But first, in case anyone remains unaware or unconvinced of the problem, I will digress to provide a very brief summary of the CFC issue.
CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) are inert to all natural chemical processes occurring on land, on sea and in the atmosphere. This is why they appeared ideal for a varied range of industrial uses - refrigerants, foam-blowing agents, aerosols, and fire-fighting equipment. By 1972, CFC production had reached 800,000 tpa and, by virtue of this stability, atmospheric concentrations increased every year.
With nowhere else to go, CFCs diffuse into the stratosphere. There, in a totally new and rarefied environment and exposed to UV light, CFCs decompose and produce free chlorine which, in turn, initiates a catalytic-type reaction in which one molecule of a CFC can be responsible, on average, for the destruction of 100,000 ozone molecules.
This matters because, without the stratospheric ozone layer, much more UV light will reach the ground and cause damage to crops and an increase in various forms of skin cancer. It also will alter the climatic heat balance and could change weather patterns with dramatic consequences for world agriculture.
At some risk to my professional reputation, I will hazard the opinion that any gaseous substance that is benign at ground level is unlikely to remain so when, as it must eventually, it reaches the stratosphere. The principle that effluent disposal should be close to its origin suggests that it would be safer to use chemicals with. known selfdestructive properties - even if this does cause some ground-level pollution.
Nitrogenous fertilisers are another problem. Without their widespread application, particularly in the Third World, the so-called “green revolution” would have been impossible and starvation would be even more prevalent than it is anyway. But there are two environmental consequences that have to be faced.
Locally the problem is that excess nitrates (and other nitrogenous fertilisers) run off the soil and pollute waterways. Gross examples of such pollution have been verified by keen-eyed Greenpeace vigilantes in many countries and the damage is indisputable. Globally, nitrates encourage nitrophyllic bacteria which, by a process analogous to making CO2 by photosynthesis, increase NOx emissions.
Whilst improved technology can reduce NOx emissions from coal, oil and petrol consumption and thus reduce the NOx component of photochemical smogs, nitrogen-fixation for fertilisers necessarily interferes with the global nitrogen cycle. Additional NOx from nitrophyllic bacteria is sufficiently dispersed to pose no photochemical smog threat - but may well become significant in relation to the Greenhouse Effect.
These examples suffice to illustrate that, whatever new products are discovered and whatever their apparent benefits, we must expect problems whenever we interfere with the natural processes of nature. This, I emphasise, is not an argument against the manufacture of any specific chemical product but, most certainly, it is a warning that we cannot ignore the Gala theory: there’s “no such thing as a free lunch”.
Considered in isolation, no chemical company is likely to upset the delicate balance of nature. It is only when several companies all seek to maximise production of profitable outlets that problems arise. Companies need to cooperate in studying the possible global effects of high-volume products - rather than waiting for protests from environmental pressure groups and then, often, ignoring the evidence.
I turn next to Waste Minimisation, which rightly has priority in this Conference, for it is here that chemical engineers have a direct role to play.
As always, elimination is better than control. Many processes would not be used if the full societal costs of effluent disposal were borne by the polluter. The imposition of the ‘polluters pay’ principle will have a major and long-term effect on the choice of production processes - making proven technology, such as mercury-cell electrolysis, obsolete simply by virtue of effluent disposal costs.
The aim should be zero-effluent - not effluent control.
However, in our lifetimes, few genuinely effluent-free processes are likely. In dealing with the resulting effluents, five basic principles should be recognised:
1 Waste disposal companies encourage waste
So long as waste disposal companies exist and can charge less for this service than it costs a company to eliminate waste, there is little commercial incentive to do so. Just as governments, world-wide, impose petrol taxes not only to raise revenue but also to discourage excess consumption, waste disposal should be taxed, not subsidised, to discourage pollution.
2 Forget about National Consent Limits
There is no point in imposing stringent controls over effluent discharges if other countries do not. This simply encourages irresponsible companies to relocate. Whilst we, as individuals or companies, should seek to compete and excel in reducing waste, legislators should be devising enforceable international controls.
3 Abolish all trade in waste
This is a corollary to the first two principles. In particular, the trade in toxic waste must be curbed and, as soon as practicable, made illegal. If a company is able to export waste, it has no obligation to reduce the waste it produces.
4 Dilution does not reduce pollution
Dumping waste at sea is, in principle, no different to discharging liquid effluent down a mineshaft. Raising the height of a chimney may reduce complaints from nearby local residents but it does not reduce atmospheric pollution. For a measure to be described correctly as ‘pollution control’, it must reduce the amount of harmful material actually released to the environment.
5 Conversion does nor reduce pollution
Conversion of liquid effluent to solid effluent (for landfill) does not necessarily reduce the mass of potentially harmful substances. Incineration only qualifies as a measure of pollution reduction if the net amount of harm (including any from CO2 emissions) is reduced. Waste remains waste, whether on land, in rivers and seas or in the atmosphere and stratosphere.
These principles are useful guidelines for a process feasibility study but, I must emphasise, nothing short of zero-effluent should be our goal. At a recent IEO-UNEP seminar (Industry and Environment Office of the UN Environmental Programme) this was described as a shift from “end-of-pipe” solutions to a “cradle-to-grave” philosophy.
Waste Minimisation and Pollution Control are set to be ‘glamour specialisms’ in the 1990s and this Conference is itself a reflection of the public interest in the work we do. The IChemE has played a positive role in formulating policies on these issues and in response to consultative papers on impending legislation and, in relation to the concept of ‘Duty of Care’, has made the following points:
“The profession of chemical engineers feel that the way forward is by
placing attention on the prevention of waste (my emphasis), reducing its
quantity and environmental impact by recycling, recovery or treatment.”
The growing importance of disposal technology and its greater sophistication and breadth necessarily requires greater expertise than many smaller companies can afford -especially within Third World countries. The lEO promotion of a “Cleaner Production Network” database may help overcome lack of expertise in the Third World and small companies - but only if companies with advanced know-how make it available.
Unfortunately, there sometimes can be a commercial advantage in maintaining secrecy with respect to Waste Minimisation and Disposal. Such instances are few and, for obvious reasons, one must hope that companies will cooperate in sharing experience in this area, as they do already for Safety where similar temptations also apply.
Because many eco-activists began their professional life in the biological sciences, reviews usually start with the biosphere and categorise pollutants by their target zones (air, land, sea). Useful as this is, it does not provide a starting point for quantifying the relative importance of dealing with each problem.
Some people object to the very idea of quantifying environmental harm, seeing it at best as an academic indulgence or, at worst, insensitive. I raise the issue as I see no other alternative to informing industry and legislators of the relative dangers.
If resources are limited, either in time or in money, there has to be a system of priorities. The British electricity industry is to spend £2 billion (at least) investment in flue gas desulphurisation, to reduce its current emissions of four million tonnes of SO2 each year by 60% before the year 2003. Does this reflect the importance of acid rain -or is it simply a response to EEC legislation?
Similar reservations surfaced some years ago in Safety and Hazard Assessments when the need arose for a measure of relative risks. With apologies to those present who already are familiar with the concepts now generally accepted, I will digress with a brief explanation of the terms ‘individual’ and ‘societal’ risk.
‘Individual risk’ may be crudely defined as the risk of a serious accident occurring to a specific individual either working in the plant or present at a defined location in relation to the plant. ‘Societal risk’ is a summation of ‘individual risks’ and takes account of the numbers and behaviour of people working in and around the plant.
For reasons which belong in the realms of social sciences rather than chemical engineering, it seems that a worker on a plant may be allowed to be more at risk than a passer-by or a nearby resident. ‘Individual risk’ is an indicator of intrinsic plant safety and can be used to establish whether sufficient instrumentation and other measures have been provided. Typical figures for ‘acceptable risk’ lie in the range 2-20 x 10-6 /year (that is, 2-20 chances in a million each year of being killed).
‘Societal risk’ is a measure of the risk to the community from the plant and process and increasingly is being used by local authorities as an aid to planning - and in imposing conditions on locations, plant layouts, emergency provisions and related matters. ‘Societal risk’ is plotted on FN-curves where the y-axis is the Frequency (F) of an accident resulting in N fatalities and the x-axis is the Number of fatalities (N).
In relation to Plant Safety, typical* values for acceptable ‘societal risk’ at any chemical plant installation are:
Fatalities (N) Frequency (F)
The underlying logic is that big disasters are less acceptable than small disasters. The figures have evolved from historical accident frequencies and our judgements of the need for and practicality of improving safety standards. If these figures correctly represent social acceptability, a ‘one million death disaster’ would seem likely to be unacceptable above a ‘one in a Billion’ level of risk in any one year.
*NOTE: Some governments and authorities have more stringent criteria for small accidents and less stringent criteria for major disasters. The Hong Kong values for the above are l0-4, l0-5 and l0-6 respectively.
Environmental Impact Assessments differ from Safety Studies and it is never wise to push analogies beyond the point of legitimacy. The common ground is the need for a categorisation that rates pollutants in terms of their impact on their immediate and ultimate environments - analogous to individual and societal risks.
One difference is that safety starts with the individual and continues upwards to societal risk whereas, in contrast, pollution starts with societal risk and ends with the global consequences. Another is that the effects of pollution are time-dependent and add a third dimension to any scientific appraisal. In short, the risks from pollution may be shown on a two-dimensional FN-plot for societal risk and a three-dimensional FNT-plot for the long-term global consequences.
A comparison of the potential environmental harm from smoke and CFCs will illustrate the underlying principles of this analysis.
Smoke (and dust) are earliest known pollutants and their abatement costs industry more than any other branch of pollution control. This is not because of their intrinsic harm but a reflection of their visibility and their immediacy. By contrast, CFCs are invisible and, even after the recent, yet belated, international agreement to end their production, their harmful effects have yet to peak. So smoke might be rated a greater ‘societal risk’ whilst CFCs would score higher as a ‘global risk’.
This analysis hides assumptions about the amount of smoke and CFCs produced - and their distribution. On 15 December 1985, a huge fire started at an oil well in India and continued for 16 days. Two days into the fire, atmospheric ozone (in the immediate vicinity) suddenly began to decrease, reached a nadir of 10% after 10 days arid did not fully recover until 11 days after the fire ended. If this were a typical occurrence, smoke would be a greater ozone-eater than CFCs.
On the other hand, CFCs have 20,000 times the greenhouse potential of CO2 although, because of the relative quantities, CO2 accounts for seven times more global warming. Another factor is the capacity of nature to absorb contaminants: the exchange of CO2 between the oceans and the atmosphere is 20 times that of CO2 emissions, in contrast to CFCs which have no natural interaction of any kind. All these factors have relevance when rating pollutants by their potential to harm the environment.
The £2 billion to be spent in the UK on flue gas desuphurisation is many times the cost of replacing CFCs to prevent the destruction of the ozone layer - and, for what it’s worth, FGD operations increase CO2 emissions. Whilst I don’t dispute that acid rain must be eradicated, I doubt whether this emphasis and priority for FGD reflects a considered technological assessment. Without an agreed scientific measure of the relative harm of various pollutants, international priorities will be ‘determined by the whims of politicians and pressure groups rather than genuine scientific needs.
A scientific appraisal of environmental harm must assess local and global effects, tonnes released, time to take effect and how long these persist, interactions and the ability of the natural world to absorb the disturbances. On this scale of measurement, the greenhouse gases must be the frontrunners for the ‘Pollutant of the World’ title.
On current trends, the greenhouse effect could cause a 3°Celsius rise in the next Century and a rise in sea water levels that would flood most of Bangladesh. Details remain imprecise but there is no doubt that the ‘one million deaths disaster’ is many orders of magnitude more likely than ‘one in a Billion’ per year (indicated earlier as a measure of possible global acceptability). Although neither Britain nor Ireland is likely to suffer such a catastrophy and, indeed, actually might benefit from limited Global Warming, our industries already cause more than our per capita share of this effect.
It comes as something of a relief to discover that the chemical industry is not the major culprit with respect to greenhouse gases. Most of the greenhouse contribution derives from the internal combustion engine and electricity generation.
Although scientific opinion remains divided on details, it seems that about two-thirds of the greenhouse effect is due to water vapour (itself a variable of climatic interchange) and the remainder to CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Within the latter, over half is due to CO2, nearly a quarter due to methane, with CFCs and NO~ the least important. Allowing 5% for CO2 emissions due to the consumption of fuel and power, the chemical industry may cause 20% of the current greenhouse effect.
With CFCs and NO~ emissions on the decline and methane so far immune to control, CO2 is the major solvable problem, with considerable scope for energy savings in industrial activities and in our reliance on the internal combustion engine. The impediments are political rather than technological - notably, the fact that our countries will have to pay more than most to reduce CO2 emissions whilst having less to fear from the effects of Global Warming.
Some years ago I wrote a paper on energy and mineral reserves, fitting the usual curves for population and growth trends and confirming that, if new discoveries were made at the same rate as now, nothing serious could upset our lifestyles.
A different picture emerges if one realises the social and political consequences of accepting current trends. As we all know, the world is divided into ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ - and the gap is widening. The USA, with 2% of the world’s population, consumes 25% of its oil. England, which has no problem feeding its citizens, imports half its food whilst Africa, where starvation is common, is a net exporter.
I doubt whether it is politically possible for this to continue. As a mathematical exercise, I have calculated how much oil, gas, coal, uranium, iron, copper and lead would be available if the entire world enjoyed the standard of living of the US in 1970 (that is, a small drop in living standards for the richest and a substantial rise for the poorest). The sobering result emerged that, apart from coal and iron, which would have an 8-10 years lifetime, the average period before resource depletion would be 2-3 years. If the world consumed oil at the US rate, CO2 emissions would rise ten-fold.
Moreover, there is a direct relationship between industrial activity and pollution. As we all know, waste minimisation relies on experience as well as on equipment and there is ample evidence that, in relation to industrial output, pollution in newly-developing countries exceeds that in older industrialised countries. It is prudent to assume therefore that my modest scenario for worldwide growth would result in greater environmental damage than that previously and currently experienced in our countries.
Whilst equality with US levels is improbable, it would be technologically feasible to raise the food production of the ‘have-nots’ above subsistence levels within a few years. Yet, if this occurred whilst the growth of the ‘haves’ merely halved, it still would necessitate a five-fold worldwide increase in industrial production with, as a corollary, the prospect of a similar rise in pollution levels and CO2 emissions.
As I am sure everyone in this audience will appreciate, five-fold improvements in energy efficiency and waste minimisation will not come easy. Whilst the politicians struggle with the problem of reconciling our living standards with those “enjoyed”, if that’s the right word, by the rest of the world, we need to set ourselves the goal of zero-effluent and minimum-energy utilisation in all our endeavours. The task may be beyond us but I fear for the future of our grandchildren if we do not succeed.
APPENDIX: Example of TOXNET declaration
FNI~1 — PFIZER PHARMACEUTICALS INC.
FAD - HWY. 2 KM. 58.8
FCTY - BARCELONETA
FST — PR
FZIP — 00617
FCO - BARCELONETA
FIPS — 72017 -
PUBC — EDGAR A. PEREZ
TEL — (809) 846—4300
SIC — (2833) Medicinals and botanicals
CLAT — Deg 018 Mm 27 Sec 24
CLaNG— Deg 066 Mm 32 Sec 18
FDBN — 09—034—6909
EPAN — PRD090346909
PNM - PFIZER INC. -
PDBN — 001326495
NAME - TOLUENE
RN — 108—88—3 \-
SEC - NONSECRET
OUSE — (3a) As a chemical processing aid
MAX — (04) 10,000—99,999 lbs. (50,000M)
o AIRNR— NON—POINT AIR RELEASE: 6,200 lbs./rep yr— 1988 Spec. Est.
o AIRNB- BASIS OF ESTIMATE (0) Other Approaches AIRPE
o AIRPR- POINT AIR RELEASE: 1,400 lbs./rep yr- 1988 Spec. Est.
o AIRPB- BASIS OF ESTIMATE: (0) Other Approaches
AIRT - 7,600 lbs./rep yr — 1988 WE -
o RSTR - RECEIVING STREAM NA
o WR - WATER RELEASE 0/0 lbs./rep yr - 1988
o SPER - PERCENT FROM STORMWATER 0.00%
WT — 0 lbs./rep yr — 1988
o UINJR- UNDERGROUND INJECTION: 0/0 lbs./rep yr -1988 RELEASE
UINJT— 0 lbs./rep yr - 1988
o LANDM- DISPOSAL METHOD: (D02) Landfil
o LANDR- LAND RELEASE 0/0 lbs./rep yr - 1988 LANDE
o LANDM- DISPOSAL METHOD: (D03) Land Treatment/Application/Farming
o LANDR- LAND RELEASE: 0/0 lbs./rep yr - 1988
o LANDM— DISPOSAL METHOD: (D05) Surface Impoundment (Closed As A Landfill)
o LANDR- LAND RELEASE: 0/0 lbs./rep yr - 1988 LANDE
o LANDM- DISPOSAL METHOD: (D99) Other Disposal
o LANDR- LAND RELEASE: 0/0 lbs./rep yr - 1988
LANDT— 0 lbs./rep yr — 1988
ERELT— 7,600 lbs./rep yr — 1988