Too much fuss is being made about the fashionable word “pollution,” says the government agency which has been keeping an eye on it since 1863. The Chief Alkali Inspector, Mr FE Ireland, who published his annual report yesterday, says: “We must beware the obvious danger that emotions could be roused to the point of overriding common sense. This is not a problem to be tackled in a spirit of panic and those prophets of doom who predict the more bizarre kind of human catastrophe and paint rather self-righteous pictures of scientists as irresponsible villains exploiting humanity to the point of disaster could well be doing their (and our) cause a great disservice.”
Alkali inspectors have been making their reports to the Minister for Housing on air pollution caused by factories and blast furnaces for 106 years. But Mr Ireland complains that, since “pollution became linked with that other fashionable word “environment,” pressure groups and campaigns have sprung up, and he is wasting valuable time answering calls from an alarmed public.
Mr Ireland says that his inspectors not only have to analyse the smoke from chimney stacks but are also advising television producers on programmes about pollution. They have become so busy that they have to decline invitations to international conferences.
But the alarmists continue with their theories; one which Mr Ireland quotes is that the “greenhouse” effect of carbon dioxide, resulting from the burning of fossil fuels, will raise the Earth’s temperature, thus melting the polar ice-caps and causing flooding. Another is that formation of dust round the Earth might reduce the penetration of solar rays, bringing a fall in temperature. He calls both highly speculative.
Mr Ireland even gives figures to show that the air is getting cleaner. The amount of sulphur (the gas made from burning coal) has decreased by 20 per cent in London in the past 10 years and 40 per cent in industrial areas as a whole.
Mr Ireland says that pollution is tolerated for economic reasons only. He is against comparing Britain’s performance with those of other countries. Often the standards of others are more stringent, but rarely enforced. “We believe in realistic standards,” he says. “Complicated legislation and standards usually require complicated and expensive means of supervision and inspection, with the danger that the system falls into disrepute when it cannot be enforced.”
Mr Ireland adds: “It is over 150 years since this country took the decision to become an industrial nation. Today’s major decision is not whether we should tolerate damage to amenity, but how much we should tolerate.”