In Search of Techne

Ch 4.3: The Environment

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to

(The first entry relating to Environment is to be found in the chapter on Scientific and Technological Information, where the problem of pesticide residues is used on February 9 1972 as an example to illustrate the functioning of the Research Register publised by the RIA and NSC. The first entry in this chapter is in response to the feedback generated thereby.)

March 8 1972

I am indebted to Michael F Ryan, in UCD, for some feedback on pesticide research which I touched on recently. I indicated that I thought that the one-man watch on pesticide residues conducted by Dr Eades at Oakpark (the Agricultural Institute Crop Research Centre at Carlow) was insufficient, and that there was need for this to be stiffened up. I should add that the enactment of legislation in other countries restricting the use of toxic pesticides renders us liable to dumping of unwanted products by maanufacturers.

This, and other such areas requiring the combination of scientific knowledge with social responsibility, was discussed last Wednesday at a meeting of a small interdisciplinary group which constituted itself under the name 'Science for Society: the Kane-Bernal Association'(1). To date it involves twelve people; two meetings have been held, without dropout. Rules are being drafted. It is hoped to publish a newsletter containing material worthy of reprinting in local and national papers. The basic idea seems to be to seek a local group membership, with professional, teaching and lay components....

The principal objects include the encouragement of public awareness of the implications of science and technology, and the making available of professional advice on a voluntary basis where it is needed in the social interest (eg on environmental issues)....

To return to Michael Ryan's work: this is in the new field of chemical ecology, the study of the use of specific chemical substances as attractants or inhibitors in the predator-prey relationship. He is working on the orgnaic chemistry on the carrot plant, in a search for substances whic affect the feeding behaviour of thhe carrot-fly larva.

Arising out of my remarks, he points out that one of the most effective ways of insect control, alternative to traditional chemical pesticides, is to use the sex-attractants released by the female to lure the male into an insecticide-rich area; thus only the target population is hit, and the dragonfly remains to feed the trout....

This work is supported by the Agricultural Institute.

I have also had letters from Professor Kelly of the Veterinary College, and from Dr Cabot of an Foras Forbartha.

The former is concerned with the effects on fresh-water fish of organo-chlorine pesticide contaminants. I have looked in the Research Register for this and failed to find it. There is some Veterinary College work classified under Agriculture. The weakness of the classification system keeps coming up. If I owned a river and found that my fish were dying, should I go to Professor Kelly or to Dr Went? Or to Dr Cabot...? According to the Register Dr Cabot is in the Planning Division, with responsibility for conservation. He is spread very thinly over about 14 different projects..

There was a conference at Oakpark in March 1970, at which Dr Cabot read a paper on wild life and agrochemicals.

A Biological Records Centre has been established, which is collecting records of flora and fauna based on a 10km grid system.

There is a group in the Water Resources Division of an Foras Forbartha consisting of three engineers and two biologists. Again, this group did not show up in the Research Register because of the failure of the necessary keyword to show up in the titles.

So it seems that Dr Eades is not alone in this matter. There is the basis for a small meeting of those concerned, to form an information-exchange. Who would convene it? The forces are scattered.....

Also by way of feedback, I have had a reprint from Dr Hessayon of Strathclyde: good blockbusting stuff about how much we owe the chemists, and how inconsistent the crackpots are. Crackpot conservationism is, admittedly, a problem in England, where many people seem to value their pets above humans. Natural product pesticides of terrifying lethality can be home-brewed...

The way to deal with chemical-industry spokesmen is to have a science-based, interdisciplinary watchdog group. Were such to exist, Dr Hessayon would respect it....

October 11 1972

There has been a disappointing response to the 2500 per annum fellowship offered by the Institute of Chemistry of Ireland for pollution research. This would be a three-year appointment with the applicant choosing his/her own base and defining a project.

The post remains open up to November 13.....

Possibly the unorthodoxy of the job is off-putting: the onus of finding a base must be a hurdle for a young applicant, while the remuneration might not be enough to tempt a more experienced person to seek leave of absence. The need to 'define your own project' is also perhaps a hurdle for people who are used to applying for jobs where they are told what to do.

Are there no engineers with a noise or dust problem, or industrial chemists with an effluent problem, or local authority technologists with a sense of civic responsibility, who are prepared to take a few years off to take a more basic look at their problem? Are there no thwarted academics with a sense of practicality willing to use this fellowship as a means of easing themselves into the world of applied-scientific problem-solving?

There is scope for using the fellowship to travel and amass other peoples' experience: English technology for re-aerating oxygen-depleted rivers, Swedish control of chemical effluent, Canadian experience in recycling methods. There is scope for devising systems for monitoring fertiliser run-off which are practical, and devising methods for implementing such systems, which take the human element into account.

December 12 1972

Dr Peter Arni, Director of the Science Division of the IIRS, addressed the quarterly luncheon of the Irish Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Allied Industries Association on November 29, together with Dr F T Smyth, Head of the Chemistry Department.

Their argument was that a fine-chemicals industry was just what the country needed: it would augment the value of raw-materials currently being wasted (fish and meat offals, dairy by-products); it would require know-how but not excessive capital, it could be dispersed throughout the country near its raw material sources, contributing thereby to regional development. An industry employing 400-500 people by 1980 and turning over 3M pounds was considered feasible.

This was reported in the press on November 30. What was not reported in the press was the presence at the same luncheon of Herbert Vallender, of ICI, representing the European Federation of Chemical Industries.....which unites one eighth of the total private industry on the EEC. By comparison with this Dr Arni's 3M turnover by 1980 is small fry.....

Without disrespect to Dr Arni, I suggest that Mr Vallender is to be listened to with some attention. If we are to do a David and Goliath act we wil need some fast footwork, and close study of the form of Goliath.

Mr Vallender spoke guardedly because he knew that the Press were present. He said so, thereby inviting his audience to read between the lines.

Dr Vallender represents one of the most powerful industrial lobbies in the EEC: it dictates to the Commission on matters relating to transport, alcohol regulations, hydrocarbon excise, packaging, food additives, energy. It is also concerned with environment.

Mr Vallender mentioned the Rhine and pollution. He should know about this, representing as he does the arch-polluters. He laid down the principle that 'the polluter must pay', but then went on to say that man was the biggest polluter, and that the major problem was the urban authorities.

I read into this a statement of intention by the industry to pass the cost of treatment of industrial effluent on to the urban authorities, or at least to have the rules drawn up in such a way as to enable the chemical industries to pay out as little as they can get away with.

In this context I view with some concern the current indications of a developing queue at the door of the IDA by European and US chemical firms seeking sites in Ireland. Is this because they realise that we are soft on pollution?

The IPCAIA, who organised the luncheon, have set up a Chemistry Group. One of the tasks of this Group is to act as a pollution lobby on Government legislation, on behalf of the industry. In other words, the concern for the environment generated in recent years by socially responsible scientists has generated an organised industrial backlash......


Apologies to Austin Bourke(2) for only now getting round to commenting on his Kane Lecture(3), of which a brief report appeared in the news columns on November 28.

It is salutary to be reminded of what an asset our climate is, with its gentle nuances, and soft misty rain, making the grass grow.

Water resources for industry are no longer a matter of water power, but water for cooling, cleaning, processing. The problem is how to treat the polluted effluent. The Meteorological Service, with its vast data-banks of computerised records, is in a position to supply industry with hydrological data on request.

Polluted water only strikes the public notice when there has been a long dry period. Pollution, and public alarm, is usually washed away with the return of the rains.

Far more the solid pollution, in the form of junkpiles cof abandoned cars, and decay-resistant synthetic materials. Rusty machinery on country roads will not wash away in the rain.......

Dr Bourke had some sharp words to say to the agriculturalists, or rather to the purveyors of agri-chemicals. Having been instrumental in developing an early-warning system for predicting the onset of potato-blight from study of the weather pattern, for which he has received world recognition through the various UN services, Dr Bourke may be forgiven for voicing his disappointment that this information is usually disregarded. The advice given to farmers is 'spray early and often'; Dr Bourke would have them spray only when conditions Page 5 favour the growth of the blight fungus.

The chemical industry is the prime beneficiary under the former system.....


(A specially commissioned article, for publication in association with the column, argues against the trend into disposable plastic bottles, on grounds of their long-term stability as solid waste, their production of toxic gases when incinerated and their dependence on non-renewable resources for their production. The author was Martin Speight of the TCD Zoology Department.)

January 24 1973

As a follow-up to Dr J J Kelly's article on January 11 (this was published as a general feature, not in association with the column), the article published here today fills in some of the background from United States experience......

Gerard Kernan is particularly concerned with liquid pollution and oil spillage; Dr Kelly concentrated on air-pollution.

I take this opportunity of pointing out what Gerard Kernan is perhaps not easily able to see from afar, namely that there is nominally in existence a pollution control body, in the form of the Chemical Engineering Department of the IIRS, under Dr Tom MacManus.

It might however be argued that a pollution control body of this nature lacks legislative teeth and is liable to be hampered by its status as consultant to the industrialist. There is substance in Gerard Kernan's contention that a body is needed which is responsible to the public and to no-one else. However well-intentioned and ethical Dr MacManus's department may be, because of its interest in industrial contract research it will find itself trying to serve two masters in situations where industrial and public interests are in conflict.

....Bord na Mona announced last November the development of the use of peat as an absorbant for mopping up oil spillages. Peat absorbs four times its own weight in oil. A ton will mop up 1000 gallons.... One needs a mechanical spreading device, and means of collecting the cohesive oil-soaked peat for burning. A close-mesh net will serve this purpose.

There is, of course, more to the solution of the problem than this. One needs a continuously vigilant system, with the necessary stores, equipment and personnel. This should be at the expense of the oil-spilling organisation; enforcement of rigid standards should be the responsibility of a harbour authority with power to impose penalties, and means of measuring pollution effects.

A natural absorbent material like peat is infinitely preferable to chemical means of oil disposal; these have a disastrous effect on marine life. The Bantry Harbour Board, when it is established and given teeth(4), will need to impose regulations specifying rigid standards for oil disposal procedures which favour natural absorbent materials, and must be prepared to resist the blandishments of the chemical companies looking for detergent outlets.

The Bord na Mona development has a wealth of international experience behind it; let no-one dismiss it as a sales gimmick.


(Some extracts from a commissioned article by Dr Gerard Kernan(5) follow. At the time Dr Kernan was working on his PhD thesis in the Systems Engineering Department of the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was funded by the National Science Foundation of the US).

The proposed new oil refinery on Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay(6), and the discovery of petroleum gas off Kinsale Head raise many questions as to the effect of this industrial development close to some of Ireland's prime scenic areas.......

To answer them will require the establishment of a government agency with the responsibility of assessing the effect of such a development on the environment. It is preferable that this agency be independent of agencies which have responsibility for industrial growth and development, in order to avoid conflict of interests.....

Pollution control costs money; as industry operates to make the highest possible profits, it is not realistic to expect industry to police itself voluntarily to comply with pollution standards.... The experience of the United States is that most industries do the minimum necessary to commply with any emission standards.

.....To enforce the regulations, penalties of up to $25,000 per day can be levied, plus prison sentences of up to one year.....emission standards are written into the law before being technically proven.... the onus is placed on industry to develop techniques which would meet these standards......

It is not that Bantry Bay is the only place in Ireland that can accommodate supertankers; it is the location where it can be accomplished at least cost. It may be feasible to construct facilities at other locations, at extra cost.

The economic benefits from the refinery will be derived principally from local employment, estimated at about 400....

...Oil refineries give rise to many other chemical industries which use refinery by-products. These must be economically located close by....

Once a refinery is built there would be further pressures to allow other industries there in the future..... Ireland is Europe in that it has been spared the scars of industrial development.... It is to be hoped that Ireland will not repeat the mistakes made in other industrialised countries...... The ravaged landscapes in many industrialised parts of England....bear witness to the high price that has been paid for indiscriminate industrial development.....

March 7 1973

On March 2 in UCD the Annual General Meeting of the Institution of Chemical Engineers was addressed by Dr David Train, who will perhaps go down in history as the man who brought the salmon back into the Thames.

Dr Train gave a history of the struggle of the London people from mediaeval times against the pollution caused by their own presence in such large numbers.

First there was the air-pollution problem caused by the 'sea-coal' (ie coal shipped by sea from Newcastle), then with the invention of domestic sanitation the stench of the Thames. The last salmon disappeared in 1833. The House of Commons, being on the river, started to legislate by about 1850, after which began the slow climb back to biological health. Fish which will tolerate 10% O2 saturation (floundrs, pilchards) are back, but the predators, requiring 30% O2 saturation, are still absent, so that the ecological problem is one of population explosions. There is a 5 degree temperature rise due to the power-stations. Despite this, conditions in the winter flood are such that salmon can, and do, run up to spawn.

Dr Train was illustrating the point that when people become aware they act; consequently the assumptions underlying the 'Limits to Growth' document produced by the Club of Rome and the environmental lobby are subject to change via a feedback-loop process.

He conceded however that the Club of Rome, Rachel Carson, Meadowes and others had performed a service by activating this 'conscious control' procedure. Were it not for the 'environmental lobby' the pollution per tonne of product would not have come down by a factor of ten in a decade, as it has done, at least in the case of a selected group of products which are the result of the art of the chemical engineer.

While on 'Limits to Growth': on February 22 in the New Scientist there were some articles on the Soviet attitude to environmental conservation, including a critique by Yevgeny Fyodorov of the 'Limits to Growth' approach, which exudes confidence, placing stress on the qualitative improvement in the working population which occurs once demography and economic life are matched. It accuses the authors of 'Limits to Growth' of wishing to halt the industrialisation of the developing countries.

Perhaps the reason for Western unease with regard to conservation of the reserves may be attributed to the increasing dependence on fossil fuels from sources outside their political control, while the USSR's confidence is based on the fact that she is sitting on the world's largest fossil fuel reserves?

April 18 1973

...I welcome Dr Hynes' article on solid wastes. Dr Hynes has only stated the problem; he has no golden recipe for its solution. This is another day's work.

I think that the following point is relevant to the animal wastes problem. Chemical fertiliser depends for its production on fossil fuels, which are liable to exhaustion. A far-sighted, conservationist economy would organise to recover, by biological means, all organic wastes, whether animal or human. Such wastes, already rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, can be concentrated still further by digestion, producing methane as by-product. The basic problem is one of mechanical handling; any economic solution will depend on the intelligent use of a gravity feed of slurries into a continuous digestion system.

Theoretical solutions to the problem of dumps of old motor vehicles need also to be examined. There is more fossil fuel squandered in the manufacture of the vehicle than is burnt during its lifetime. This could be changed by introducing a system whereby vehicles were hired from the manufacturer, and were built for durability. There is no reason why a car should not last for 50 years or more, with good maintenance....


(An article by Dr Michael J Hynes, of the UCG Chemistry Department, specially commissioned for publication in association with the column, outlines some problems of solid waste disposal and recycling.)

...The great variety of these (commercial, residential and institutional) wastes makes it very difficult to develop a suitable recycling process. After sorting out the plastic and inorganic matter (eg tin cans etc) the remaining organic matter may be composted, and the compost used as a nutrient-rich soil conditioner. However as a result of the ever-increasing paper content of municipal waste, the nitrogen/carbon ratio, upon which the value of the compost as a soil nutrient depends, is decreasing......

..One of the noteworthy advances in the technology of waste collection in recent years has been the compactor truck.. These compress the waste and render collections more the expense of the ease with which material may later be separated before recycling....

August 1 1973

On July 27 I participated in a small demonstration outside the Danish Consulate-General, organised by the Friends of the Earth, the anti-pollution activist group, against the dumping of toxic chemicals by a Danish boat in the Atlantic.

In brief, the history of the episode includes the blockading of the boat in Esbjerg harbour by Danish fishermen for four weeks, whereupon the Danish authorities agreed to dump it 'elsewhere'. This meant, initially, off the German coast. The Germans protested. The proposed dump-site was moved to the North Sea. The Norwegians protested. After further pressure, the load is to be dumped in the Atlantic, in the deep just off our continental shelf.

We are, apparently, accepting the assurances which the various other Governments are not prepared to believe. Professor Bary, of the UCG Oceanography Department, has pointed out that at the proposed dumping-site the deep currents go towards Spain, while the surface currents go towards Ireland. He has, of course, protested at the consequent violation of our sovereignty.

If someone puts a package in front of your house, that person is responsible for the consequent damage to your house, should it prove to be a bomb. You have the right to assume that it is a bomb until you have had your own experts examine it. Recourse to international law to prove a right to dump in the ocean just won't wash. This is clearly equivalent to a hostile act and it must be treated as such.

We don't know exactly what is in the ship. Though it seems that the waste is in liquid form, we don't even know whether it is loose or in sealed containers. We have no reason to accept their assurances. The only possible course is to play the hawk, arrest the ship at sea, bring it to port and analyse the contents of every container, using our own resources. All this is quite within our competence and rights.

We then decide what is toxic to marine life and what isn't. That which is toxic. we send back to Denmark, with instructions how to process it so that it can be dumped in Denmark. That which is not toxic we dump. The cost of this whole operation we charge to the Danish Government, and we impound the ship until the bill is paid.

Only by drastic action like this can this kind of aggression be contained. We must make it quite clear that chemical wastes must be processed by their producers to such a level of harmlessness that they can be buried or disposed of at home. This in most cases is possible, at a cost. Where this is not possible, the answer is simple: do not make the product of which the waste is so toxic. Find a substitute. Make something else.

Sovereignty over the continental shelf, now being asserted in the case of offshore oil and gas, and increasingly in respect of fishing rights, must be extended to include the right not to permit the ocean water which washes over it to be polluted.

This is an opportune moment to point out our weakness as regards what we can do if the dumping does go ahead. If the authorities had listened to Professor Bary some years ago, and provided a suitably designed stable research vessel for oceanographic and hydrographic work, we would be able to monitor the dumping-ground systematically, and provide the evidence necessary to strengthen the international conventions on marine dumping. Instead, the authorities chose to listen to narrow-minded academic in-fighters, who interpreted Professor Bary's case for a boat as a case for special funding for a particular university department(7).

In fact the departmental funding argument is irrelevant. The vessel as designed by Professor Bary would serve many purposes, including a stage in the training of personnel for the expanding naval service we are going to need if we extend out sovereignty over coastal waters to a 50 or 100 mile limit, as the fishermen, following Iceland's example, are demanding.

February 20 1974

Pollution by oil refineries was the subject of a lecture last week to the Institution of Chemical Engineers (Irish Section) by Mr P A Winchester, who is manager of the Whitegate Refinery.

Among the points he emphasised was the fact that there was no effective State-controlled pollution monitoring unit, with which a potential polluter could deal. This function, insofar is it exists, now lies with the IIRS, which will do an ad-hoc job when asked. This is not a substitute for a continuous independent monitoring body.

Mr Winchester pointed out that it is relatively inexpensive to build in pollution control at the design stage (eg segregated effluents which can be processed in the ways appropriate to the known contaminants, instead of a mess in a common sewer).

He then went into the economics and technology of water-treatment of crude oil: the sulphur tends to occur in the form of mercaptans, giving an offensive smell. These hydrolyse to H2S, which is then reacted with oxygen giving water and free sulphur. There is a market for this with the acid manufacturers. The process is tricky to control and consumes energy, but it can be done, and some of the cost is recovered with the sale of the sulphur.

Kuwait crude, which contains 4.3% sulphur, can be reduced to the 1% level, but to do so requires expenditure of 11% of the energy contained in the oil. For half the energy expenditure you can get the sulphur down to 2%. If you try to wash out the SO2 from the exhaust gases, you cool them, so that the plume does not rise well from the stack. The overall solution must be a compromise between good stack design and partial extraction of sulphur from the crude.

Noise, due mainly to furnaces and air cooling systems, can be designed out by totally enclosing the noise source and adding appropriate brick walls. (Again, there are no national noise standards, and no independent national or local noise monitoring service).

Mr Winchester called for a new breed, the 'environmental engineer', trained in a broad-based discipline familiar with all aspects of water and air pollution, whether by chemical, biological or physical (eg noise) processes.... The major industrial firms would have to employ such people, if they had to cope with a State monitoring service with teeth.

Plant managers, such as Mr Winchester, clearly want to employ such people.

Their Boards, however, are unlikely to sanction the spending of money in this direction unless their competitors are in the same position. So it is clearly up to the Government to legislate to introduce a statutory authority, and to the Universities to develop some sort of a masters-degree programme for converting our surplus of physicists, chemists and biologists into environmental engineers.

Most of the opposition to the Dublin Bay refinery proposal(8) (which I am informed is based on a long-term contract option on Algerian oil at 2% sulphur) is based on the lack of such an authority, and on the presumed inability of Dubliners to press the Government politically to legislate for one.

According to the IIRS evaluation of the Dublin Bay project, all the design points mentioned by Mr Winchester are provided for at the start. With 600,000 Dubliners watching, I suggest that we are more likely to get legislation for a pollution monitor service than if the problem is banished to a green-field site, under the control of one of the 'big seven' oil-multinationals.

Mr Winchester analysed the history of the spillage of oil at Whitegate. Some 1500-1700 ships per annum are handled. In the four years 1970-1973 spills occurred on 7,5,4 and 1 occasions. This improving record is a result of a conscious effort to improve the management procedure governing the interaction between two crews, usually having a language barrier between them.

A State monitoring service could facilitate this learning process by being visibly present, and possibly even supplying interpreters, if necessary.

March 20 1974

I listened with pleasure to Dr Kenneth Mellanby, who is head ot the Monks Wood experimental station, Huntingdon, England, addressing the inaugurral meeting of the UCD Biological Society. Dr Mellanby has become known as the 'pesticides man'; he has been influential in achieving what in the UK may by now be regarded as a good standard of conservation in agriculture, after the initial shock of poisonings by dieldrin and other agro-chemicals.

He warned against undue worry about species threatened in a particular place which were thriving elsewhere. This was happening throughout evolutionary time. Some species, such as the fox, were thriving in urban environments, finding more in the dustbins than ever they found in the fields.

He outlined some of the problems associated with the large African predators, and the large wild mammals in general. In the long run, these would be incompatible with agriculture, as were the wolf and the bear in Britain. A managed solution is likely to emerge; domestication of African herbivores was also likely, as these were usually better converters of grass to meat in the African environment than were farm-animals imported from Europe.

Professor W R Kelly, of UCD, outlined some of his own work on the Irish rivers. Water-pollution is much more of a threat to aquatic life than surfaace pollution by edible solids; this was due to the sheer volume of water that the fish needed to flush through its gills to get its oxygen. Organo-chlorides therefore needed to be measured at levels of parts per billion.

The prime source of pesticide pollution in Irish rivers was the washing of sheep fleeces.

Professot Kelly, along with Dr Eades in the Agricultural Institute, is clearly playing an important role as our pesticide watchdog. However I wonder if the feedback-loop into legislation is tight enough. There is still no action, to my knowledge, on the question of the Cavan lakes and the pig producers, although the technical possibility and economic viability of a centrally-managed slurry-handling system have been demonstrated by work done in the Agricultural Institute, along with the TCD Department of Statistics.

There will be a boom in wool as the petroleum-based artificial fibres run into trouble. Are we ready to control the ensuing flood of wool-washings from the expanded herds of sheep?


I have to hand a report of a major effluent treatment plant installed by Mahon and McPhillips Ltd at the Ballyraggett Creamery. (This Kilkenny firm was founded in 1947 and deals in civil engineering as well as industrial and farm machinery.)

The Ballyraggett project processes effluent equivalent to the output of a city of 100,000 people. The milk processing plant has a capacity of half a million gallons per day and cost 3.5 M pounds to build. The cost of the associated effluent plant was 250,000 pounds. The process is four-stage, with physical and biological processes involved. The biological oxygen demand drops from 1800 to 300 ppm and then finally to 20 ppm, with 30 ppm suspended solids.

These figures, I suggest, constitute a useful reference to anyone considering the technical and economic feasibility of treating their effluent.

July 3 1974

Dr R B Wood, Reader in Biology in the New University of Ulster, gave a discourse to the Royal Irish Academy on June 24 in which he outlined the researches carried on at the Limnology Laboratory, Lough Neagh, of which he is the Director.

By using new techniques he has been able to trace the history of Lough Neagh as recorded in the bottom sediments. He has shown that the normal process of 'aging' of the lake has been accelerated in recent years, to the extent that it is becoming in danger of de-oxygenation. It is already producing dense crops of algae (accompanied by swarms of midges) and is beginning to impede the motion of game fish into the feeder rivers.

As in the case of Lough Sheelin, the source of the nutrient for the algae is mainly agricultural effluent (fertiliser run-off, silage, pig slurry etc).

Dr Wood outlined various technically possible remedial actions, which however if they are to be implemented will require political pressure to amend legislation. The organisation of pressure on issues like this could, perhaps, act as a unifying factor between conflicting local peoples' interests.

Germane to the Lough Neagh question is the proceedings of a conference on the topic of 'Intensive Agriculture and the Environment' which took place at Newcastle-on-Tyne in September of last year. This was attended by about 80 delegates from all the principal European countries, the EEC Commission, and the USA. Two of the 18 papers were contributed by representatives of the Agricultural Institute, one from the Irish Meteorological Office and two from Northern Ireland, bringing the total Irish contribution up to five.

This extent of Irish interest in the problem is a reflection of the weakness of our environmental legislation, compared to US or European standards. Perhaps if the pressure generated by the Irish scientific contribution were to be directed at a single Government for the whole island of Ireland, it would be more likely to achieve results.

August 8 1974

The New Scientist of July 18 carries a report by Karl Hammond on a du Pont proposal to establish a titanium dioxide plant at Cork. The proposal involves the processing of 100,000 tonnes per annum of ilmenite ore, shipped from Australia. This contains 30% iron, which is destined for disposal as hydrochloric acid slurry. This, while starting out as a clear green liquid (ferric chloride solution), in contact with sea-water hydrolyses to produce an adhesive orange floc of the type which in the Mediterranean has given rise to the 'red mud' pollution problem.

Objectors to the site originally proposed at Llanelli in Wales were concerned for the survival of estuarine species. Half a tonne of lead per day, as well as 100-300 tonnes of iron in ten times as much slurry is not lightly to be accepted.

The New Scientist correspondent suggests that it appears to be policy to direct developments like this towards wherever conservationists are worst organised. He goes on to point out that the British Steel Corporation routinely recovers both hydrochloric acid and iron from pickling liquor not unlike du Pont's waste, making a profit. I quote:...'the tired old excuses that proper treatment presents technical difficulties and is not economic can no longer justify a scheme to bring thousands of tonnes of iron from the other side of the world in order to dump it in the coastal waters of the British Isles.'

Where is our independent environmental watchdog? The IIRS can only come in if asked. We need legislation as a matter of urgency.

August 28 1974

Three weeks ago I mentioned a possible pollution hazard at Cork arising from a proposed du Pont plant.....

There has been a quick reaction from du Pont who have circulated copies of a letter to the Editor of the New Scientist to all Irish commentators who have shown concern (the Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Cork Examiner and an Taisce(9)).

Mr J F McAllister, the du Pont Public Affairs Manager, takes up the New Scientist on a number of points. The waste is to go to the open sea, not to the estuary. Dumping takes place from a barge. This relatively costly procedure is chosen not for economic reasons but '...because it presents minimal environmental effects which can be monitored and controlled'.

This sentence, I suggest, is ambiguous: does it mean 'the effects are small and can be monitored and controlled', or does it mean 'it minimises those effects which can be monitored and controlled, without regard to other uncontrolled effects', or again does it mean 'it minimises the opportunity for monitoring and controlling the effects'.

It is possible for public relations people to be too clever and to convey one thing while meaning another. Clearly du Pont wish us to take the first interpretation, while in fact the third may be the reality.

Mr McAllister goes on to state that 'tests over several years at our disposal location in the Atlantic off the United States indicate no accumulation on the bottom and no adverse effects on sea life'. In order to be reassured by this we need to know who made these tests, over what area did they extend, what species were involved, and what trace-elements subject to food-chain concentration were taken into consideration. A reference to a report by an independent environment-monitoring body would have conveyed the required reassurance.

September 25 1974

I have had a few echoes regarding the matter of the dumping of titanium residues off Cork.....

I have since discovered, by devious routes, that the official US Environmental Propection Agency had a hand in the matter, with assistance from the University of Delaware. The survey-work was done prior to start-up and during the first year of operation.

The waste dumped is highly acid (about 20%). There was a thermocline (ie cold water at the bottom) from May to October, so that the floc does not sink but is dispersed in summertime; in winter it sinks.

Direct on-shore currents from the dumping site 38 miles SE of Cape Henlopen (Delaware) were negligible. 'No substantial changes occurred in the marine life definitely attributable to the barging operations'. Dumping costs amount to less than a dollar per tonne.

In the Cork situation, it is clearly necessary to evaluate carefully the effects of any on-shore currents which may exist, aand to evaluate the sensitivity of shellfish and other economic species to the types of pH and trace-element changes likely to be encountered.

It is useful that the Delaware work has been done; at least there is a reference-point with which our State environmental authority can compare. The trouble is we don't yet have such a body.

February 18 1975

It is now well established that exposure to VCM (vinyl chloride monomer) over a period can give rise to cancer of the liver. This is of considerable concern to the Trade Unions which represent workers in factories which manufacture, or make use of, PVC (polyvinyl chloride). A book recently published by the International Chemical Federation (ICF) and written by Charles Levinson, the Secretary General, gives an extensive survey of the known facts, and the legislative moves which have been made in the various countries.

VCM remains in the body of the PVC, slowly evaporating; this is what is responsible for the rather pleasant smell. PVC has been used for bottles. It was never liked much by the brewers, who chose other plastic materials for their fittings because PVC gave 'off-flavours'.

What is more frightening is that VCM has been used as an aerosol spray propellant, as it liquefies conveniently under slight pressure.

Since last year VCM has been banned by the Food and Drugs Administration in the USA for use as an aerosol propellant. What happened to the stocks on hand is anybody's guess. As there are no regulations governing toxicity of aerosol can contents in the Irish Republic, it is quite possible that some of these unwanted toxic stocks might have been unloaded here. Any firm dealing in aerosol cans would be well advised to check out what they contain, and the Consumers' Council should consider pressing for the introduction of regulations governing the use of VCM, and indeed the levels of VCM vapour in the neighborhood of PVC-based commodities.

Copies of the ICF monograph may be obtained through the Irish Transport and General Workers' Union.

Another potential chemical hazard is NRDC 143, of which the production in Britain has been licenced to Burroughs Wellcome and Mitchell Cotts by the National Research and Development Corporation. It is being sub-licenced by these firms to ICI and Shell, as the demand is considerable. It is an insecticide, 100 times as active as DDT and 30 times as active as dieldrin, and is harmless to mammals. However, it is highly toxic to fish; this fact has been noted in the February issue of the Skipper, where it makes the front page.

Run-off of agricultural wastes of the ordinary non-toxic variety is already important enough to damage our trout and salmon streams. Suppliers of agricultural chemicals would do well to check.out on this before investing heavily in NRDC 143 stocks.

November 18 1975

From the ICI stable comes 'Flocor', which replaces the traditional stones in the municipal filter-bed. By providing a relatively large surface for aerobic bacterial growth, it speeds up the effluent treatment using existing installations. The principles are well-known, having been in use since ancient times (in vinegar production); packed towers (in which liquid trickles down over solids shaped to have maximal surface area, against an up-current of gas) are commonplace in the chemical industry. What is new here is the application of these more refined techniques in what hitherto has been a Cinderella area, municipal sewage.

The lead-in has been via industrial effluent treatment plants, of which currently there are 26 in Ireland, mainly in connection with new plants which had to get planning permission. The scale of municipal schemes where this type of process is economic is now down at the 2000 population mark; one has been installed at Flamersheim, in Northern Westphalia, which is about the size of Kells or Castleblayney.

The process differs from the 'activated sludge' system in that it is much more highly aerobic.

ICI have also under development a system in which bubbles are produced by decompression, giving a very fine and stable foam, on the interfaces of which the bacteriological processes take place at an even higher rate than in the Flocor process. This system is adapted to textile and paper-mill effluents. However the market for this type of equipment is going to depend on pollution legislation, in which we are still deficient. Ad-hoc submissions in relation to planning applications are practically all we have got.....(10)


1. The Kane-Bernal Association did not prosper, but many of the members contributed articles on environmental issues which were published in the Irish Times in association with the writer's column.

2. Director of the Meteorological Office.

3. Annual prestige event in honour of Sir Robert Kane; see Chapter(?).

4. No proper Board was ever set up, with the result that serious spillages and one major accident with fatalities took place, involving the total loss of a supertanker (the Betelgeuse). The site is now derelict.

5. Currently working on the State telecommunications modernisation programme.

6. This in the end was never built. It remains a possibility for the re-activation of the now-derelict Bantry site.

7. Professor Bary is head of the Department of Oceanography in UCG. See Chapter 4.6 (The Sea) for more about him and his work. In a letter to the Irish Times on July 28 he had already adverted to the matter, in response to articles by Dick Grogan, a staff reporter, on July 24 and 25. Much of the same ground was covered. The following quote complements the writer's contribution to the discussion: '...views of Danish scientists are reputed to have been taken into account in connection with the dumping. It is very difficult to believe that these scientists, who include the foremost marine scientists in the world, would state that there were no fish at the bottom (at 15,000 feet) where the chemicals are to be dumped. They would certainly know that this was not so.......'. A further letter from Patrick J Duffy, of Maynooth, on July 30 suggests that the Government should take a stronger position than that implied by the 1972 Oslo Agreement.

8. See Chapter 3.2 (Chemical and Process Engineering) for a discussion of this controversial proposal.

9. This body has the function of environmental watchdog, but it lacks teeth, although its large voluntary membership ensures that it can apply political pressure on occasion.

10. It may be remarked that there is no reference in this chapter to the UN Conference on the Environment which took place in Stockholm in 1970 and was largely responsible for making the 70s the 'decade of the environment', although at the time it was widely dismissed as a failure. It should be stated that the profile of the UN as seen from Ireland is lower than it should be, and the Irish media contribute to this by their somewhat slavish dependence on the major agencies in Britain and the US for their international news. Sean MacBride has edited a report from UNESCO on this topic that deserves more attention than it has got.

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