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NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the Week this week from WMU the American University Radio Station in Washington D.C. a discussion of problems of environmental pollution in Britain. Susan Harmon of WMUR talks with two distinguished scientists from England Dr. Anthony Downey director of the water pollution research laboratory for the ministry of technology and Dr. Allan Robinson director of the Warren Springs Laboratory also for the ministry of technology. Both men were in the United States to talk with their opposite numbers in the United States government. Susan Hartman let me begin by asking you gentleman are truly national concern about her environmental pollution is a relatively new thing in this country is the same true in Britain or has there been this concern historically. Dr. Robinson is an interesting history I think in the United Kingdom about atmospheric pollution.
And it goes back to twelve hundred twenty eight inches long time ago in a Korean island I don't think that's not him complaining about atmospheric pollution as there was concern of a high level. And then in thirty one hundred seven the first act was passed this forbade the burning of sea Ben Cohen in Suffolk. King Edward the first complained about it and as a result of that somebody was executed. But it didn't have very much effect because we went through history and we had to have a major smog incident in 1952. A large number of people died described as excess deaths arising from that incident and this triggered off the first Clean Air Act which has been a very successful piece of legislation. But there's been concern over the over the ages after the thirteen hundred seven ordnance Queen Elizabeth the First was upset about it and complained about pollution in Westminster. There was a gentleman called John even who wrote a tract about pollution in London.
And then there was a great increase in the use of coal and soft in the United Kingdom arising out of the Industrial Revolution and the introduction of new processes and so on. The first piece of legislation was the Arclight in 1863 which was to control the production of caustic soda. And this has been added to over the years. So I think it's something like two thousand three hundred on processes and are controlled and regulated by the alkali and something like 900 premises. We've been adding to legislation since that date but I don't know if you want to go and talk about legislation next fall for the rest of the period. Have stuff done it like to talk about this field. Well I'm going to side I think really really goes back with us as well. The first statute legislation was a 13 88. But then the family I think really quite a few
centuries before anything very much happened. And it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century when we had the outbreaks of cholera. And of course the industrial revolution beginning to reach its peak before. I think the really was a major concern again and of course at that time you had. The situation in the Houses of Parliament the condition of the Thames was so foul and mellow tourists that were in the Houses of Parliament they had to hang blankets soaked in disinfectant across the windows in order to prevent the stench and to enable parliament to go about its business. And then a few years after that you had people writing letters to parliament. And
the letters were written with the rooster from certain of the polluted rivers in the north. And this really culminated in 1876 I think in the first major pollution control water pollution control legislation. I'm actually glad to quite a powerful act. At that time which ought to have been sufficient to prevent some of the adverse effects of the pollution that have happened since them. The problem about it rare there was that the legislative control at that time was left in the hands of local authorities who were in a sense their own judge and jury. And there were a lot of them something like fourteen or fifteen hundred of them. Because it was so fragmented and because there had dual responsibilities it wasn't very effective. Then we had a series of royal commissions who
examined the problem in really quite some detail and particularly went into its scientific aspects. And this lad. While in 1937 the public health drainage of trade premises Act which effectively controlled discharges of public out of industrial effluent to the public sewage system. And then in 1950 or 51 to be precise we had really quite a powerful. Act the reverse prevention of Pollution Act which put the whole control of pollution of natural waters in the house of river boards as they were then called. Who were made responsible for High River catchment and were really given quite extensive powers. These powers have been extended since then. But really I think they the 1951 act was the. If you like the major
breakthrough in water pollution control in Britain. Well we'll be wanting to talk about that act further and also the fifty six Clean Air Act. But first let me ask you do what factors do you attribute this long time concern about pollution in Britain. Is it because the problems were so apparent that when the legislature had to put up the this in fact and that the problem really came home or just what Dr. Robinson. What a difficult question to answer but I think perhaps the simple answer and perhaps it's an oversimplification is that in the past there's been a tendency perhaps to do nothing until there's been a very clearly demonstrated national or regional disaster and at that point in time then people are prepared to do something about it because I think we don't pay him and don't generally realize that the ultimate culprit if
that's the right word of pollution. Is the members of the general public and think we're all guilty for pollution because it arises out of the things that we want and the things that we consider that we need to enjoy the good life. And there will be concerns for example about motor vehicle pollution. If you don't want to drive cars. So there's a resistance that tends to build up against doing anything about pollution because it's because very often the preventive measures by certain sections and pressure groups are interpreted. In such a way it was going to prevent us enjoying life. Being simple again in the oversimplification. The quick shortcut to preventing motor vehicle pollution is to stop driving cars and that's an unacceptable solution and I think this is the reason why it takes a long time and there are vested interests. As I said the consumer in fact perhaps has as deep and as great a vested interest as anybody else but. You may not agree with this but I think
this is part of the reason. No no I think I don't really agree with them. Those sentiments I would just add to that. I'm on the water side I think the fact. That our legislation has been probably tighter than most countries until quite recently for a good feeling in advance of most of the rest of the world. It really arises because we had our industrial revolution earlier than most and as far as the war situation went I mean by comparison with the situation Harry in the United States we had a really comparatively small rivers with very limited capacity for recovering from the effects of pollution. And dense concentrations of population around them. We simply felt the adverse effects of this situation that you were just forced
on us by and by this situation of dense urban and industrial development around small rivers with limited carrying capacity. I think the country's always tended to recognize that. Really everything in life in the senses is some form of compromise and we've tended to take a pragmatic approach to the pollution situation. At any rate up until the present time I think the the conservationists element in pollution control has not been quite so manifest as the. Idea that what one really wanted to do was to determine scientifically. Exactly play how much polluting material could be tolerated and then use the system so that chu loaded
it up if you like so as to take maximum advantage of the resource as a vehicle for conveying waste products away. Trying to arrange things so that when you use this capacity to the full without unacceptable acceptably prejudicing the other things that went wrong to do with natural waters using them for drinking and recreation and fishing and so on. I really think in the end that every society will probably have to come to the US that does. It's unrealistic I think to think in terms of complete pollution prevention. One has to think in terms of pollution control determining what tolerable levels of pollution. I think will be helpful to us to get out. More precise idea of the relationship
between research and legislative action. If we examine both these acts that we mentioned before. First the Clean Air Act of 56 and sort of case study fashion exactly what was done and then the water pollution act of 51. Dr. Robinson That's. Right one has to set this against the background of concern on the part of local authorities public health authorities if you like those that knew and were concerned. About 1913 when there was a meeting of the local authorities and public health officers who decided that one wasn't perhaps going to be very successful in getting legislation passed unless there was a great deal of precise knowledge of distribution of pollution and in our cities and towns and some of the forward thinking local authorities started taking measurements. In those days they were particularly concerned with dust emission and nuisance effect that these had
when they came down to ground level. And this went on the measurements that were spread and quite a lot of authorities started doing this. In other words there was a growing concern about concentrations of pollutants essentially glistened and smoke and sulfur dioxide and also of course in terms of indicators of the general level of atmospheric pollution was. But it wasn't. 952 All well as I said a disastrous smoky fog incidence of smog and there was something of the order of 4000 excess deaths and deaths over and above those that would normally be expected to happen. This gave rise to a great deal of public concern and the view of the committee was set up and it reported in 1054 and one of the things it attempted to do was to make an
estimate in addition to the very obvious effect of the smog as to what the economic cost was to the nation. This then resulted in the passing of the Clean Air Act in 1956 but I think what I'd like to comment about this because I think you've raised this in the context of research and research results and legislation and rightly our Clean Air Act was a particularly successful act was the fact that it was swimming with the tide of public opinion at that time. And if in fact the legislator had wanted to wait until they had all the evidence they developed monitoring techniques they could examine precisely what the concentrations were and precisely what the specific pollutants were and knew precisely what their effect on health and amenity and so on. We're still waiting I think for the Clean Air Act. Successful legislator legislature I think has that. Has to take action.
There's not much point in time and many of us are dead in our gray before we take preventative action and you can take preventative action if you're swimming with the tide of public opinion. It was passed in 1956 and gave powers to the local authority to introduce clean air controllers a designated black area of the country. And it also gave legislation to the emission of smoke from industrial chimney standards were set for this. A little later directly out of the regulations came in. Generally hate regulation was so designed. Well the object of the act was to make sure at the ground level concentrations of sulfur dioxide didn't
exceed something like four hundred sixty three micrograms per cubic meter at ground level on occasion which meant that the contribution from an industrial chimney would be very small in relation to the total concentration of smoke and sulfur dioxide put out from the domestic user fuel and so on. This was to take emissions up away from ground level where they were doing maximum damage and it was permissive if you like to the extent that local authorities could not take action locally if they wished to introduce a clean as a within their area. They could approach the minister of housing local government who would bring out an order and then it was compulsory in their particular district. As far as the street was concerned they were given time to put their house in order in other words it was almost a threat. Not quite in those words of course but if something didn't happen very speedily then they could anticipate the dislocation that would be more
stringent. They were given until 1961 and by 1961 there'd been remarkable changes. I think I'm speaking from memory I think the emission of smoke from the industrial sector fell somewhere between by about 50 percent in fact over the issue yeah. As between 1956 and 1961 they got the message and they moved on. Then they think maybe I just misunderstood him. One question there. What was the effect then on industry what was their reaction to this act did they buy back. Why did they move ahead. Now they moved ahead on this one. There are good systems spend government because a bunch of record been down on the fish and burning of fuel a lot of the smoke came out of chimney as a result of inefficient combustion. Now the thing that happened of course is that the great arrestors duster rest as that static said precipitators were put
into a lot of blogs. There was a changeover from coal burning in a number of areas to oil burning which eliminated the smoke problem so they in fact moved. They preferred to do it themselves rather than being made to do it. Again I think this was a very successful piece of legislation and it's been followed now for 1968 by the second Clean Air Act which is no longer permissive. And now the minister of housing local government has authority to introduce smog control orders in the backward areas. If you like the local authority areas well they haven't done anything to set their house in order. And in addition to that it is now an offense. You are breaking the law if you burn anything but smokeless fuel in a smoke controlled area and even if you deliver. A non-smoker's fuel in these areas so that now it's become less permissive than it
was the past with and water pollution act was this the same sort of atmosphere as the 1956 Clean Air Act in the sense of public opinion. Corresponding with government action. I think so very largely I think in a sense left of what went in to the thinking behind the 1950 riot act was what I would call. Administrative common sense that that was realize that it just really wasn't very sensible to have pollution control in the hands of a member of authority. On. Individual rivers because their boundaries were only going to extend so far and what one did would them interact on the other was that it was much more sensible rather to set up an independent authority
responsible for the whole river from source to mouth. And of course running vests into the research. One of the main powers that the river borders as they then were. Had. Was the power. To require those discharging into rivers to purify their affluence to standards that were legally enforceable by the river board. So in effect the reverberant could say exactly what the discharge should do. To meet their requirements. This was. Subject to the appeal of those who thought they were being unfairly
penalized if you like by having to spend more money than they thought was reasonable on pollution control the whole thing was subject to appeal to the Minister of Housing and Local Government. The research linked in with there says that the river authorities clearly have to have some basis for the standards that they were going to apply. It was always conceived in the legislation but the standards that were to be applied should be reasonable one means that there should be an attempt to apportion the capacity of rivers to recover from the effects of pollution reasonably evenly between their discharges. And of course to do this one has to know in scientific detail. In fact just what were the effects
of polluting discharges I mean the quantity of water in rivers and in other natural waters. And the only real commercial of that reported in 1913 I think it was. How can quite a lot of scientific inquiry carried out to give a basis for saying what were reasonable standards. In those days. A lot of consideration was focused on the effects of organic discharges because of course the main polluting constituents of them domestic sewage are mainly organic matter plus things like ammonia. These materials IME ago oxidation by bacteria in rivers. And this leads to depletion of the dissolved oxygen concentration of them.
And if the level of oxygen is depleted too far then you can get fish less fixated. When the level falls below about 40 percent of the saturation value. If the oxygen is completely removed you get these conditions which lead to liberation of sulfide to the atmosphere. So they think their own commission paid a lot of attention to was the effect of organic discharges on distribution of dissolved oxygen in reverse and also the effects of suspended solids are also on depletion of dissolved oxygen to bitti of the appearance of river water. And so there was a basis for fixing standards for the oxygen demanding property of
affluence. The biochemical oxygen demand as it's called. And also its content of suspended matter. Pretty well you know you felt like River boards applied standards for both of these two factors. To. All the affluence all organic containing affluence discharged into reverse. We touched briefly on the economic considerations of the time of the Clean Air Act. What would you say have been the economic effects of this both legislations against pollution of the environment. Has it been a priority item for the government. And have the long term effects of this action that's already taken place proved to be a good thing economically. I think I will qualify.
Yes there are questions on the basis that atmospheric pollutants in talking about smoking are so to emphasize again they think that they are used as indicators I think. Nineteen fifty four the Biba Committee estimated the total cost of the nation is something like 250 million pounds. And this was due to a defect on health corrosion or sawing of curtains and so on laundry bills painting and what have you since that time as a result of survey activity that I think is essential if you're going to determine how successful legislation is and in addition if not successful or want you best to improve it on back on new legislation. The fact of the matter is that since 1958 smoke concentration is ground level concentration of smoke are fallen by 60 percent of the country as a whole levels in London has been even more dramatic fall in this form by something like
67 or 68 percent and the concentrations of sulfur dioxide at ground level. And this is despite a population increase of something like 10 percent over the same period and an increase in energy consumption over the same period of time like 17 percent of the oxide ground level concentrations are falling by 30 percent so that there must have been economic gains. The difficult it is to precisely identify them. In other words for running I have been out running up times right. But if you take a look at corrosion of metals for example it's not an easy thing to do is identify the precise contribution that atmospheric pollution makes as normal atmospheric corrosion or the destruction of homework. Although the life of a fabric the number of times that you have to wash it and so on unless one does a great deal of research on the precise nature of the effects it's extremely difficult
to quantify them precisely. But I come back to the original statement. There must have been positive economic gains I wouldn't like to put a figure on it. Can I take a little of your air time and say something that I would hope not that we haven't given the impression is that they haven't given the oppression that anybody in the United Kingdom is complacent about about the pollution problem. There's still a lot of work to be done and still a lot to be done. Susan Harman of W.A. MUFON in Washington D.C. talking with Dr. Anthony downie director of the water pollution research laboratory for the ministry of technology and Dr. Allan Robinson director of the Warren Springs Laboratory also in the ministry of technology. Both men distinguished scientists in the United Kingdom. They were in this country for talks with their opposite numbers in the United States government and the Ares special of the week thanks WMU. The American university radio station in Washington for the recording of this program. This has been a special of the week from
any are the national educational radio network.
Special of the week
Issue 39-70 "Pollution in the United Kingdom"
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 39-70 "Pollution in the United Kingdom".” 1970-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <>.
APA: Special of the week; Issue 39-70 "Pollution in the United Kingdom". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from