Farewell To Love Canal

1 Details of the story of Love Canal have been taken from a number of different sources, including Goldsmith and Hildyard, Earth Report 3 (1992), and a report in the New York Times from 22 October 1990.

2 For a fuller discussion of the costs of cleaning up contaminated sites in the US, see Chapter 5 in Jackson, Clean Production Strategies.

3 This viewpoint is most clearly underlined by the consideration of economic and ecological systems as non-equilibrium thermodynamic systems (see Chapter 1). Such systems tend to exhibit certain kinds of behaviour which are inherently unpredictable because very small changes in initial conditions can lead to very large changes in the state of the system. This feature of climatic systems is one of the reasons it is so difficult to provide accurate weather forecasts, for example.

4 The term 'organic' is being used here in the sense of relating to carbon chemistry. The particular organic form of mercury which gave rise to the Minamata Bay incident was methyl mercury.

5 In 1984, the US National Academy of Science found that there was no toxicity information at all on 77 per cent of chemicals in commerce and only 'minimal' information on the remaining 23 per cent (see National Academy of Science, Toxicity Testing: strategies to determine needs and priorities, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 1984).

6 This sensitivity can be defined in terms of a concept known as the critical load: the environmental load (for a particular pollutant) below which no harmful environmental impacts occur. There are clear similarities between the concept of critical load and the concept of assimilative capacity. Both assume that there is a level of emissions into the environment which is essentially safe.

The historical difference between the use of these concepts is an interesting one, however. Generally speaking, the assimilative capacity concept has been used as a permissive principle, justifying the release of certain contaminants into previously pristine environments. The critical loads concept has mostly been used, however, as the scientific justification for a call for wide-scale reductions in emissions of acid pollutants. This is because existing environmental loads are generally far above the so-called critical loads.

There is not really any paradox here. It is simply that when actual loads are above the calculated critical load (or exceeding the assimilative capacity) the thrust of both principles is prohibitive of further emissions. But when actual loads lie below the calculated critical load (or within the assimilative capacity) the thrust of both principles is permissive. The danger in both cases arises from the difficulties of accurately determining what those loads and capacities are.

7 This option has been adopted for instance by National Power, the UK's largest power utility, as the 'best practicable environmental option' for its planned 'orimulsion' (a cheap bitumen-based fuel) power station at Pembroke (ENDS Report, 236, September 1994).

8 The flue gas desulphurisation at Drax power station in North Yorkshire is expected to consume 600,000 tonnes of limestone a year (ENDS Report 228, p. 7).

9 Although gypsum is used in the building trade, the quantities generated are liable to create an early glut on the market. The 4,000 MW Drax power station will produce around a million tonnes a year, for instance. In addition, power station gypsum tends to suffer from contamination by heavy metals, leading to doubts about its suitability for the construction trade (ENDS Report 228, p. 7).

10 For a full discussion of this incident, and in particular the complex question of immunocompetence in fish, see V.Dethlefsen, T.Jackson and P.Taylor, 'The Precautionary Principle—towards anticipatory environmental management', Chapter 3 in Jackson, Clean Production Strategies.

11 See E.P.Odum, Basic Ecology, Saunders College Publishing, Philadelphia, PA, 1983, p. 47.

12 Early descriptions of these approaches can be found in a number of places. A particularly useful overview is provided by the US Office of Technology Assessment's Serious Reduction of Hazardous Wastes, 1986. Other sources include: M.Campbell and W.Glenn, Profit from Pollution Prevention, Pollution Probe, Toronto, 1982; J.Hirschhorn and K.

Oldenburg, Prosperity without Pollution: the prevention strategy for industry and consumers, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 1991; INFORM, Cutting Chemical Wastes: what 29 organic chemical plants are doing to reduce their hazardous wastes, INFORM, New York, 1985; and the 1990 proceedings of a US EPA International Conference on Pollution Prevention, The Environmental Challenge of the 1990s, Clean Technology and Clean Products, US Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC.

13 See, for example, S.Maltezou, A.Metry and W.Irwin, Industrial Risk Management and Clean Technology, Verlag Orac, Vienna, 1990.

14 Cleaner Production was the title used by a UNEP industry and environment programme to describe 'a conceptual and procedural approach to production that demands that all phases of the life-cycle of a product or process should be addressed with the objective of prevention or minimisation of short- and long-term risks to human health and the environment' (see L.Baas, H.Hofman, D.Huisingh, J.Huisingh, P. Koppert, F.Neumann, Protection of the North Sea: time for clean production, Erasmus Centre for Environmental Studies, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, 1990).

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