BioLogiQ Solutions is an Irish-based company that provides consultancy, auditing and training courses that are both comprehensive and practical. We work with individuals, public and private sectors to assist them in meeting their management systems requirements in:
- Health and safety,
- Quality management,
- Laboratory management,
- Energy management,
- Carbon management,
- Social responsibility,
Thanks to our award-winning A1 Ratings solutions, we also provide design and reporting services in passive building and solar energy systems. Our technical and business know-how are dedicated to delivering strategic technical solutions which bring commercial benefits to our customers.
Also, as part of our sustainability policy when you attend any of our our Energy, Environmental or Sustainability courses we offset all our course emissions including your travel using the Carbon Balanced Programme of the World Land Trust (WLT) and you will receive a free copy of the WLT certificate for the course offset along with your training certificate.
We have a fundamental commitment to the quality of our work, so guaranteeing the successful promotion of quality, safety, sustainability and profitability in all aspects of your business.
To find out more about our courses, please visit www.biologiq.ie
BioLogic, a Carlow-based company, has been honoured as an International Green World Ambassador at a prestigious ceremony on 11th November at the House of Commons in London.
This recognition comes as a result of its success in winning a Green Apple Award earlier this year for their “Optimised, Sustainable Engineering Solution” which upgraded a F-rated 1970s bungalow to A1 energy efficiency standard using improved insulation and underfloor heating powered by solar and photovoltaic systems. In fact, the dwelling is now energy neutral over the course of a year with no net electricity or heating bills.
The Green Apple Environment Award, which will be 20 years old next year, is a campaign to find Ireland and the UK’s greenest companies, councils and communities, and the Green World Ambassador status is reserved for winners who also help others to improve the environment. The award-winning project paper has been published and promoted worldwide in “The Green Book”, the leading international work of reference on environmental best practice, so that others around the world can follow their example and learn from their experience.
The award judges commented, “The aim of their project was to convert a pre-2000 built home with solar energy upgrades, both solar thermal and photovoltaic, to ensure that energy performance was at a maximum whilst the costs were at a minimum. They did this with a number of innovative solutions to achieve an A1 building energy rating and in the process achieved energy self-sufficiency and commissioned the first house in Ireland to run on solar-prioritised space and water heating systems.”
“Furthermore, we developed a more accurate method for predicting and reporting the energy harvest from solar energy systems that is now available to benefit other businesses and home-owners”, said BioLogic's Managing Director Dr. Douglas McMillan.
The awards are organised by The Green Organisation, an independent, non-political, non-activist, non-profit environment group dedicated to recognising and promoting environmental best practice around the world.
BioLogic is the first and only carbon-balanced consultancy and training provider in Ireland. BioLogic offers a wide range of auditing, consultancy and training services in environment, health & safety, energy, laboratory, quality management, social responsibility and sustainability requirements as well as the design of energy efficient and passive buildings and optimised solar energy systems.
ISO 9001:2015 – A quick look at the “known knowns” and the “known unknowns”
As well over 1 million organisations across the world await the latest version of the world’s most popular management system standard let’s ask ourselves what do we already know about the expected changes to the ISO 9001 standard and what won’t we know until the standard is published and implemented by organisations?
The Process Approach, PDCA
The existing concepts of Plan Do Check Act (PDCA) and the Process Approach will remain at the core of the standard.
The existing 8 Principles of Quality Management underpinning ISO 9001 will remain. These will however be reduced to 7 principles by merging The Process Approach and the System Approach to Management. This recognises that essentially a System is a set of interacting Processes and there is a strong overlap between these two Principles.
Common High Level Structure
We already know that the new 9001 standard is going to be aligned (along with all the other management system standards) with Annex SL which is the High Level Structure for all management systems. The aim of this is to “standardise the standards” and make it easier for organisations to integrate and manage a variety disciplines in one system. There will be a common text at the core of all management system standards meaning approximately 30% of the text will be common.
So what will the impact of this be on our existing Quality systems? Essentially, it will mean that organisations will need to re-align our existing management systems, by considering the processes we already have and deciding which of the “new look” requirements they already meet, as many of the changes are conceptual, this will address most of the new standard but there will be some gaps and these will need to be filled by adjusting the relevant processes (e.g. control of documents and records) and in some cases creating new ones (e.g. managing risk and opportunity).
More emphasis on addressing “risks & opportunities”
This is one change that is going to take some time to show its impact on and benefit to organisation’s QMSs. A known unknown if you like.
The new version of the standard will require our QMS to identify risks and opportunities and put controls and actions in place to address the most significant of these.
This is the one change that will occupy most Quality Managers, auditors and management system consultants over the period of transition to the new standard. It might seem like a new concept for Quality (and a little scary for some organisations), but ISO 9001 has always required us to consider risk.
Just think for a moment about what Preventive action meant in practice i.e. identifying potential problems and preventing their occurrence – isn’t this almost a text book definition of risk management? Confirming this change, the term Preventive action has been removed from the new standard, but far from being removed; the concept has been reinforced by the change. Lots of Quality professionals already successfully manage risk with their Quality systems through HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points), Business Continuity Planning, internal audits, trend analysis and preventive action processes and, as already discussed, where these processes do already exist they will simply need to be aligned with the requirements of the new version of the standard.
“Products and services” instead of “product”
ISO 9001:2008 already determines that wherever the term “product” was used within the standards it also meant “service” (see Clause 3). The new standard will replace the term “Product” with “Product and Service”.
To some, this is a very minor change and won’t impact at all on their understanding of the existing standard. For others, mainly Service Providers it brings much needed clarity and removes an opportunity for misunderstanding of what requirements apply to them.
Others changes we can expect, include the following;
More requirements for top (and other) management.
“External provision of products and services” instead of “purchasing” – includes outsourced processes.
Elimination of specific requirements for a Quality Manual and a Management representative (you can still keep these of course but they will no longer be required).
Managing the Transition through Audit and Corrective Action
One approach that organisations could take to managing the transition, could be to use their internal and external audit processes to flag any gaps between their current QMS and the new requirements. Organisations can then use their Corrective Action process to drive through the changes required over time.
To achieve this, Internal auditors will need to be trained in the changes to ISO 9001 as soon as possible after the standard is published, this will allow them to use the requirements as additional criteria in their audits, and then raise observations against these new requirements in their reports to allow the changes to be addressed gradually within the system over the 3 year expected transition phase.
This is the expected approach of the Certification Bodies who will start raising observations (or category 3 findings) once the standard is published later this year.
None of the changes coming in ISO 9001:2015 should present a major problem for organisations to address over the 3 year transition to the new version – by planning now and introducing change gradually the disruption to the organisation should be minimal.
If you would like to find out more about Quality Management Systems, do have a look at our internal quality auditor course.
This article was written by Shane Curran, SureLeaf Systems. Shane is an expert member of the NSAI Quality Management Standards Committee, whose role it is to review and approve the changes to national and international Quality Standards including the ISO 9000 series; he works as a freelance management systems consultant and auditor and works with the BioLogic team from time to time as an Associate.
Waste Management, why is it important and what can you do?
Most people don't realize how much waste they throw away every day. For example, if we are just looking at food, from uneaten leftovers to spoiled produce, shockingly, as much as half of the world’s food is wasted. Consequently, feeding the world is actually much more about preventing waste than finding ways of producing more food and all its associated social and environmental costs.
Once in landfills, the valuable raw materials contained in waste are lost and food in particular breaks down to produce toxic leachate which can contaminate groundwater and methane which is twenty-four times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so making a significant contribution to climate change.
According to the EPA’s National Waste Report for 2012 Ireland produced 2,692,537 tonnes of municipal waste which includes household, commercial and other waste or 4.6% lower than in 2011 which continues an ongoing trend of reduced levels of waste production.
What is waste?
The key piece of legislation here is the Waste Management Act, 1996 which defines “waste” under Section 4 as anything that is to be thrown away, is intended to be thrown away or is handled as waste i.e. “Any substance or object belonging to a category of waste specified in the First Schedule or for the time being included in the European Waste Catalogue (EWC) which the holder discards or intends or is required to discard, and anything which is discarded or otherwise dealt with as if it were waste shall be presumed to be waste until the contrary is proved”.
“Disposal” is also defined under Section 4 and includes the collection, sorting, transport and treatment of waste as well as management of the waste and resource minimization including storage and tipping of it above or under ground, together with any transformation operations necessary for its re-use, recycling or incineration. A permit system operates for persons other than “public waste collectors” engaged in the treating, destroying, or tipping of waste on behalf of another person.
A key measure of the Act was to make not only producers, but also "holders" of waste responsible for waste management so that everyone in the waste management chain from production to disposal have a “duty of care” to ensure its proper treatment. This obliges waste producers to check up on the performance of their waste contractors and the penalties for not doing so (non-compliance) are prohibitive with possible fines of up to €13 million, daily fines of up to €130,000 and imprisonment for terms of up to 10 years.
The real cost of waste for your business
Ever-expanding waste legislation, consumer pressure and growing business awareness of the benefits of sustainability have all increased the need for organisations to improve their environmental performance.
Many companies are unaware of the true cost of waste to their business which could be as high as 4% of turnover. This is because the true cost of waste isn’t limited to the bill for disposal, as there are hidden costs, in terms of wasted raw materials, energy, labour - which can be five to twenty times greater, not to mention the risk of fines and reputational damage as poor management can land an organisation on the wrong side of the law. Consequently, implementing a structured waste minimisation programme makes sound financial sense as well as heightening competitiveness through improved quality control, quality of the environment and business and public profile.
The waste management hierarchy outlines the key principles. Reduction is the most preferred option as it’s the waste you don’t produce that doesn’t cost you anything. It includes all actions taken to reduce the amount and/or toxicity of waste requiring disposal, however, it is typically a more technical and in-depth approach which involves reviewing all operations to identify waste reduction options. It also can lead to improvements in overall operational efficiency and productivity.
Reuse, preferably internally in the organization but externally if this is not feasible, is the next best option. Recycling and composting come next in order of preference and are probably what most people think if they think of waste management.
Incineration is the most polluting of all energy sources (but does recover some of the energy content of waste) and along with disposal (landfilling) props up the waste management hierarchy as the least preferred option.
Some simple methods of reducing waste include:
- reducing paper waste by default double-sided printing,
- purchasing of goods that have recycled content or produce less waste,
- moving to a 'paperless' office or implementing a “paperless” day in the office,
- providing reusable cups to eliminate disposables,
- composting food waste produced in the canteen for example (and a legal requirement if it is greater than 50 kg a week),
- installing recycling bins in the office – make sure to consult with employees to ensure they are located so as to be easily accessible, and do the contrary for general waste bins.
If you would like to learn more about waste management and minimization, and understand the legal requirements for your organization, we run an intensive one-day introductory Waste Management and Resource Minimization course. For more info drop us an email to email@example.com or call us on 059 9100203.
If you want to find out more about waste management yourself take a look at the EPA’s ‘BeGreen’ website.
- Irish Statute Book
- National Waste Statistics – Report and Bulletins
- Cr� the Composting and Anaerobic Digestion Association of Ireland
- Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Article from The Guardian: "Almost half of the world's food thrown away, report finds"
A new Directive on the control of major accident hazards involving dangerous substances known as Seveso III was published on 24 July 2012 by the European Commission and has been implemented in the Irish legislature by the Chemicals Act (Control of Major Accident Hazards Involving Dangerous Substances) Regulations 2015. It amended and subsequently repealed the Seveso II Directive on 1 June 2015.
The Seveso III Directive addresses the consequences to the regulation of major accident hazard sites of the repeal of the Dangerous Substances Directive and Dangerous Preparations Directive (implemented in GB as the CHIP Regulations) and their replacement with European Regulation (EC) No 1272/2008 on classification, labelling and packaging of substances and mixtures implemented in GB as the CLP Regulation.
The Seveso III Directive does not fundamentally alter the regulatory regime laid out in Seveso II but does strengthen a number of areas such as public access information and standards of inspections.
Scope of Seveso III
As with Seveso II, Seveso III applies to an establishment that has dangerous substances as set out in Annex 1 at or above the qualifying quantities. Annex 1 contains two tables which are; Part 1 ‘categories of dangerous substances’ and Part 2 ‘named dangerous substances’. There are some changes in both named categories of dangerous substances and named dangerous substances between the current Annex I and the Seveso III Annex 1.
The toxicity categories have moved from Very Toxic and Toxic to Acute Toxic Categories 1-3 with exposure routes (dermal, oral and inhalation) specified in some cases. There is also a new category of ‘flammable aerosols’. In the named dangerous substances, heavy fuel oil and ‘alternative fuels serving the same purpose and with similar properties’ have been moved to the named substance entry for Petroleum Products and biofuels have been included in the entry of ‘Liquefied flammable gases’.
These changes mean that from 1 June 2015 a number of sites may:
enter the regime at the lower or upper tier threshold
move from the lower tier, or vice versa
leave the regime completely.
The Directive is aligned with the UNECE Convention on public information, public participation in decision-making and access to justice on environmental matters (known as the Aarhus Convention).
In line with the Aarhus Convention the changes will mean that:
All sites will have to provide basic information about their sites, Upper Tier sites will be required to provide more information than Lower Tier sites. This information must be permanently and electronically available and kept up to date;
Further information including Safety Reports and Inspection Reports will have to be made available on request.
The current requirement under Seveso II for a flexible risk/hazard based system for inspection will continue under Seveso III which means the frequency of site visits will continue to be based on the risk/hazard profile of the site. Relevant findings of inspections under other EU legislation will need to be taken into account in the hazard/risk assessment of sites and where possible inspections will need to be co-ordinated with other EU legislation.
Notifications from operators will have to include information about neighbouring establishments and other nearby sites where they are relevant to the major accident hazard scenarios. Sites will also be required to provide information about their inventories under CLP which means that under the COMAH Regulations 2015, establishments will be required to re-notify to demonstrate that they fall into scope and under which tier.
Upper Tier sites will still be required to produce Safety Reports. All Upper Tier sites will need to reclassify their inventories from CHIP to CLP to be attached to their Safety Reports.
The fundamental requirements of emergency planning from COMAH 1999 will remain under Seveso III / COMAH 2015. The Directive has made the requirement for lower tier sites to have appropriate on-site emergency planning arrangements in place more explicit.
What are the implications for me?
The Seveso III Directive, and by extension the COMAH Regulations 2015, apply to any business where dangerous substances, as set out in Annex 1 of the Directive, are either present on site at or above the threshold quantities or could be generated in the event of an accident. All types of businesses with dangerous substances are covered, not just those in the chemical sector.
If you already operate a COMAH site you will need to:
check the scope of the Seveso III Directive i.e. changes to Annex 1;
check other parts of the Directive which may apply e.g. more information may be required for the safety report which will then need to be revised, or public information requirements may have changed for your site.
For an operator currently out of scope under COMAH 1999 you will need to check the changes to Annex 1 of the Seveso III Directive which could affect whether your site remains out of scope or becomes an upper or lower tier site. If you are in scope of Seveso III you will need to check which requirements you will be obliged to comply with and meet the appropriate timescales.
Local authorities must prepare adequate emergency plans to deal with the off-site consequences of possible major accidents at upper tier sites, and should review and where necessary revise them. They must also test them at specified intervals.
Local authorities will need to prepare emergency plans for any sites in their area that become upper tier sites as a result of the changes in the Seveso III Directive.
Land use planning is one of the measures in the Seveso III Directive intended to mitigate the effects of a major accident in the unlikely event that one occurs. The changes to the land use planning requirements of the Seveso III Directive will be implemented through planning legislation.
If you need to find out more about SEVESO and train your staff call us on 059 9100203 or enquire about our in-house SEVESO Awareness course that we can customise to your organisation’s requirements.
Companies and organisations with environmental management systems certified to ISO 14001:2004 have until end 2018 to make the transition to the new 2015 version of the standard. ISO 14001:2015 introduces a number of substantive changes to make the standard more effective with an overall aim of ensuring certification achieves real environmental improvements and makes a contribution to sustainable development. In this regard, it is useful to consider the roots of the standard which emerged from the environmental movement that emerged in the 1960s. However, its roots go much deeper than this and a look at these can help tease out some of the key issues and some of the philosophical concerns that underpin it. This is information an environmental or EHS officer should be aware of when conducting a strategic re-evaluation of the existing EMS and that should also be considered for the EMS, particularly in the areas of training, awareness and communications.
Early environmentalism taken in its broadest sense as concern for one or more parts of the environment, including public health issues, typically involved a number of ‘movements’ which often evolved as a reaction against the horrendous conditions of industrial towns with their poor or non-existent sanitation, life-threatening levels of pollution and unsanitary slums and tenements. A search for solutions to these problems also led to a number of initiatives which are still with us in one form or another today. Modern history has also been punctuated by a series of environmental disasters or events which served to heighten public awareness and concern.
The Romantic Movement arose with the German Sturm und Drang (storm and drive) movement which found its answer in England in the form of Keats, Shelley and perhaps the most popularly cited Wordsworth. Wordsworth believed that poetry should begin as “the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” which were often invoked by scenes of natural beauty. With something akin to a conservationist perspective he wrote of the Lake District as a “sort of national property in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”.
One of the ‘tenets’ of the movement was a strong belief and interest in the importance of nature and the past (which was frequently viewed as a ‘golden age’). However, a ‘feeling’ for nature tended to be an individualistic concern with a focus not on nature itself but rather on the effect nature had upon the artist when surrounded by it, preferably when alone. There was also a tendency to believe that a close connection with nature was both mentally and morally healthy.
The ‘Great Stink’ of 1858
The ‘Great Stink’ was an event in central London in the months of July and August 1858 during which hot weather greatly exacerbated the smell of untreated human waste and industrial effluent flowing into the River Thames. The problem had been mounting for some years as the result of an ageing and inadequate sewer system that emptied directly into the Thames while infected water supplies had resulted in several cholera epidemics that had killed thousands of Londoners. Large numbers of labourers were paid to spread chalk lime, chloride of lime and carbolic acid on the waterway and riverbanks to control the smell and by June of 1858, the stench from the river had become so bad that business in Parliament was affected and curtains on the river side of the building were soaked in lime chloride to try and ease the stench. The measure did not work and discussions were held about possibly moving the business of government to Oxford or St Albans. The Metropolis Local Management Amendment Bill was passed into law in record time on 2 August of that year initiating the construction of a modern sewerage system which still serves London to this day.
Air pollution and Darwin’s moth
For most of the century from 1850 to 1950 the primary environmental cause was the mitigation of air pollution. The Coal Smoke Abatement Society was formed in 1898 founded by artist Sir William Blake Richmond whose involvement arose from frustration with the pall cast by coal smoke in winter! In an 1898 letter to the Times calling for action he wrote that, “the darkness was comparable to a total eclipse of the sun”. One of the early and largely ineffective provisions of the Public Health Act 1875 required all furnaces and fireplaces to consume their own smoke and this was extended in 1926 with the Smoke Abatement Act to include other emissions, such as soot, ash and gritty particles.
The peppered moth (Biston betularia) is a night-flying moth with colouration suited to provide it with camouflage during the daytime as it rests on lichen-encrusted tree trunks. It exists in two forms or morphs, one with cryptic colouration (B. betularia morpha typica) that makes it almost invisible on ‘clean’ tree trunks and another black or melanistic form (B. betularia morpha carbonaria) that typically forms 5% of the population and is usually quickly predated by birds due to its high visibility. However, the coal-generated air pollution had the effect of coating all in black soot particles and transformed previously multi-coloured, lichen-covered trees into blackened trunks. This reversed the odds for the two forms and bird predation quickly resulted in the black form making up 95% of the population in a striking and popularly used example of natural selection. Once air quality improved after the Second World War, light-coloured peppered moths become the common form again.
The search for solutions
Another branch of the early ‘environmental’ movement, the Commons Preservation Society was founded in 1865 and was concerned with preserving open spaces for the poor and increasing access to the countryside for the general population which was threatened by enclosure of the historical rights-of-way network through England and Wales. Its founders and early members included the philosopher John Stuart Mill, Lord Eversley, William Morris, Sir Robert Hunter, and Octavia Hill. Hunter was later involved in the founding of the “National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty” (aka the National Trust) in 1893 which obtained secure footing through the 1907 National Trust Bill which gave the trust the status of a statutory corporation.
An early “Back-to-Nature” movement was advocated by intellectuals such as John Ruskin, William Morris, Irish playwright (and early vegetarian) George Bernard Shaw and Edward Carpenter, who were all against consumerism, pollution and other activities harmful to the natural world. Hand in hand with the political aspects of the movement was the emphasis on the traditions of a distant and reputedly happier past which among other things led to the revival of Morris dancing, May queens, maypoles and folk singing.
From 1872 to 1903 Zoologist Alfred Newton published a series of investigations into the Desirability of establishing a ‘Close-time’ for the preservation of indigenous animals and advocated for legislation to protect animals from hunting during the mating season. This led to the formation of the Plumage League in 1889 (later the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, now the largest wildlife conservation charity in Europe) which initially acted as a protest group campaigning against the use of great crested grebe and kittiwake skins and feathers in fur clothing.
A Garden City movement was initiated in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the United Kingdom which aimed to combine the town and country in order to provide the working class an alternative to working on farms or ‘crowded, unhealthy cities’. Garden cities were intended to be planned, self-contained communities surrounded by “greenbelts” with proportionate areas of residences, industry, and agriculture. The first was built in 1904 at Letchworth outside of London followed by another at Welwyn. These remained the only examples however, but the movement did succeed in promoting the need for better urban planning policies and was taken up again particularly in the aftermath of World War II both in England and internationally.
Across the pond, in the late nineteenth century Thoreau was interested in peoples’ relationship with nature and studied this by living close to nature in a simple life detailing his experiences in his best known book Walden; or, Life in the Woods. Pioneers of the early conservation movement called for more efficient and professional management of natural resources as they believed the destruction of forests, fertile soil, minerals, wildlife and water resources would lead to the downfall of American society. An early success was characterised by the use of photography which was used to demonstrate the grandeur of the Yellowstone region resulting in the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872. In 1891, Congress passed the Forest Reserve Act, which allowed the President of the United States to set aside forest lands on public domain.
President Theodore Roosevelt is often credited with the institutionalisation of the conservation movement in the United States when after his experiences traveling as an enthusiastic, zealous hunter, he became convinced of “the need for measures to protect the game species from further destruction and eventual extinction” commenting that “We are prone to speak of the resources of this country as inexhaustible; this is not so.” He signed the National Reclamation Act in 1902, which allowed for the management and settlement of a large tract of barren land and in 1905 helped to create the United States Forest Service and appointed respected forester, Gifford Pinchot, as the first head of the agency. For Pinchot “conservation means the greatest good to the greatest number for the longest time” and its principles were:
Development: “the use of the natural resources now existing on this continent for the benefit of the people who live here now. There may be just as much waste in neglecting the development and use of certain natural resources as there is in their destruction. … The development of our natural resources and the fullest use of them for the present generation is the first duty of this generation.“
Conservation: “…the prevention of waste in all other directions is a simple matter of good business. The first duty of the human race is to control the earth it lives upon.“
Protection of the public interests: “The natural resources must be developed and preserved for the benefit of the many, and not merely for the profit of a few.”
Somewhat in contrast, a preservationist approach was promoted by John Muir, a Scottish-American naturalist (‘John of the mountains’) and “patron saint of the American wilderness“. Muir’s writings exalted the aesthetic and spiritual aspects promoting the belief that all life was sacred in terms inspired by his strict religious upbringing and rote knowledge of the Bible. He also promoted the need to get out and experience nature once writing that “no amount of word-making will ever make a single soul to ‘know’ these mountains.” As a preservationist, Muir envisioned the maintenance of pristine wilderness where any development was banned and his activism (which included a night camping in the backwoods of Yosemite with President Roosevelt) helped to preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park and other wilderness areas. He also co-founded the Sierra Club, America’s oldest conservation movement in 1892.
A number of events also influenced the thinking of the conservation movement. The most notable of these related to the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius), a species of pigeon that was endemic to North America. This bird migrated in enormous flocks and at one point is thought to have constituted 25 to 40% of the total bird population of North America, numbering around 3 to 5 billion at its peak. To give an example of its abundance, one flock in 1866 in southern Ontario was described as being 1.5 km wide and 500 km long, took 14 hours to pass, and held more than 3.5 billion birds. The largest nesting area ever recorded was in central Wisconsin in 1871 and was reported as covering 2,200 square km (850 square miles), with the number of birds nesting there estimated to be around 136,000,000. They could be shot with such ease that many did not consider them to be a game bird, as an amateur hunter could easily bring down six with one shotgun blast and a particularly good shot with both barrels of a shotgun at a roost could kill over 60 birds.
Main reasons for the extinction of the passenger pigeon were the massive scale of hunting to provide meat and eggs, the rapid loss of their habitat, and the extremely social lifestyle of the bird, which made it highly vulnerable to these factors. Thus, in the space of less than fifty years it went from being perhaps the most abundant bird on the planet to extinction when ‘Martha’ the last passenger pigeon died on 1 September 1914 at Cincinnati Zoo. The destruction of this species provided a seminal example of our unprecedented ability to destroy even the most abundant of creatures.
A near miss
This sobering fact was also highlighted by the plight of the American buffalo or bison. Bison probably numbered from 30 to 60 million at their peak and were the most numerous single species of large wild mammal on Earth. Historically, the American bison played an essential role in shaping the ecology of the Great Plains. They graze heavily on native grasses and disturb the soil with their hooves, allowing many plant and animal species to flourish. Prairie dogs prefer areas grazed by bison where the grass is short so they can keep a lookout for hungry predators and their burrows in turn provide homes for many other prairie species. Wolves also relied on bison herds as a major food source. The great plains were described by early explorers as “one black robe” and the “plains were black and appeared as if in motion” due to the herds of bison. One train on the Kansas Pacific Railroad in 1868 travelled 120 miles through one continuous herd while another train in Kansas was stopped in its tracks for eight hours while one unending herd of buffalo passed by.
Destruction of the prairies for farmland, industrial-scale hunting for the tongue (which was a delicacy), robes and meat and development of a new tanning process which enabled the processing of their hides for leather led to their disappearance across large tracts of their range. For a time bison hunting became a favourite sport of the wealthy and train companies offered tourists the chance to shoot buffalo from the windows of their coaches, pausing only when they ran out of ammunition or the gun barrels became too hot. An estimated two million bison were killed on the southern plains in 1870 while one railway engineer said it was possible to walk 100 miles along the Santa Fe railroad right-of-way by stepping from one bison carcass to another. Finally a policy of extermination as a weapon of war to break the Plains Indians by depriving them of their main food source drove numbers down to a low point of several hundred animals by the 1890s. An American general commented that buffalo hunters “did more to defeat the Indian nations in a few years than soldiers did in 50” and this same prejudice scuppered many of the early attempts at conservation.
Eventually however, the unprecedented slaughter and concern for its continued existence gave rise to one of the earliest effort in species conservation as the American Bison Society was formed in 1905 with Theodore Roosevelt as its honorary president. Today there are some 30,000 bison in conservation herds but as this is still a fraction of the original number it is still classified as Near Threatened. In recognition of this and its symbolism in US history, last week the bison became the first national mammal of the US putting it alongside the bald eagle. The passenger pigeon of course, won’t be making a comeback.
As described in part 1 of this article, early legislation and attempts to curb air pollution were largely unsuccessful and a situation arose in post-war London where ‘pea soup’ fogs in colder winter months combined with the excess pollution that was a normal feature of daily life to create life-threatening smogs. Also known as a black fog, killer fog or smog, is was a very thick and often yellowish, greenish, or blackish fog caused by air pollution that contained soot particulates and the poisonous gas sulphur dioxide. On the worst days, employees were sent home from work as breathing itself became difficult never mind actual work while certain London businesses did a brisk trade in house refurbishing and the sale of furniture ‘covers’ to protect families’ household possessions from the damage wreaked by the acidic, smokey air. Many voiced the need for the introduction of smokeless fuel but the Conservative government of the time loudly proclaimed that its introduction would provoke economic collapse, despite the significant disruption to business and loss of income the smogs were actually causing.
The ‘Big Smoke’ of 1952
Then came the Great Smog of ’52 or The Big Smoke, a severe air-pollution event that affected London during December that year. A period of cold weather, combined with an anticyclone and windless conditions, collected airborne pollutants mostly from the use of coal to form a thick layer of smog over the city which lasted from Friday 5 December to Tuesday 9 December 1952. My parents lived in London at the time and on the first day of the event my grandfather drove to ‘rescue’ my mother and her sister from work as all public transport had been cancelled. Despite his military training, the mission was not very successful, as the smog was so thick that a hand held up in front of the face was almost invisible so instead my mother and aunt ended up walking all the way home down the road to guide the car as my grandfather drove home at the obligatory snail’s pace.
According to the UK MetOffice, the pollutants emitted into the London atmosphere each day of the smog included: 1,000 tonnes of smoke particles, 2,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide, 140 tonnes of hydrochloric acid, 14 tonnes of fluorine compounds and 370 tonnes of sulphur dioxide. The latest research indicates that this led to the premature deaths of up to 12,000 people while more than 100,000 fell ill as a result of this event. Most of the deaths were caused by respiratory tract infections from hypoxia and mechanical obstruction of the air passages by pus arising from lung infections that the smog resulted in. The lung infections in question were mainly bronchopneumonia or acute purulent bronchitis superimposed upon chronic bronchitis that would itself have been created by childhood exposure to smogs.
Such an unprecedented, albeit entirely predictable, public health disaster finally created the outcry needed to push through the necessary changes to the law resulting in the Clean Air Act 1956. This restricted the use of dirty fuels in industry, banned black smoke and introduced ‘smoke control areas’. Needless to say, the much vaunted economic collapse never materialised while London never suffered another smog of anything like this magnitude.
As a postscript to this, an assumption would be that things are much better today, however, the old coal powered stations have now been replaced by millions of cars spewing nitrogen oxides, fuel particles and VOCs (volatile organic carbons) so that an estimated 9500 Londoners die annually and as many as 60,000 across the UK. This has of course been made considerably worse by the ‘cheat’ devices employed by the car manufacturers and in a tragic repeat of history the intransigence of the current administration to even propose any of the appropriate control measures.
In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, certain events illustrated our newfound capacity to cause environmental damage on an unprecedented scale including hydrogen bomb testing, the first major nuclear accident at Windscale (now Sellafield) in Cumbria in 1957, the oil tanker Torrey Canyon spill off the coast of Cornwall in 1967, a 1969 oil spill from an offshore well in California’s Santa Barbara Channel (that led to the creation of ‘Earth Day’) and the 1971 lawsuit on effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata, Japan.
Another seminal environmental health disaster was the evacuation of the Love Canal community in 1978 after the discovery of tens of thousands of barrels of toxic waste which had caused birth defects, leukaemia, miscarriages and other ailments. This exposed the national problem of dumping of hazardous waste and led to the ‘Superfund’ Act of 1980 a federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants.
Furthermore, spectacular images of our ‘blue’ Earth floating alone in space created a new sensibility and wonderment (the so-called ‘overview effect’ experienced by some astronauts) while at the same time highlighted our planet as a tiny, fragile ball of life “hanging in the void” supported by a paper-thin atmosphere. This perspective generated new motivation to protect our small and unique place in the universe.
In 1949, A Sand County Almanac published by Aldo Leopold explained his belief that humankind should have a moral respect for the environment and that it is unethical to harm it. His land ethic is summarised in the following quote: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” Expressing similar beliefs to those of America’s First Nations and other indigenous peoples, he considered that land is not a commodity to be possessed but rather that humans must have a respect or even a reverence for Earth so as not to destroy it. He also puts forth the idea that humans will never be free if they have no wild spaces in which to roam. His book also stimulated a widespread interest in ecology as a science as its concepts suffused his writing.
More influential, however, at least in terms of concrete outcomes was Silent Spring, an environmental science book by Rachel Carson published in 1962. This seminal publication documented the detrimental effects on the environment, particularly on birds, of the indiscriminate use of pesticides. She first wrote a letter, published in The Washington Post that attributed the then recent decline in bird populations – the “silencing of birds” – to pesticide overuse. In 1957, 1958, and 1959 crops of U.S. cranberries were found to contain high levels of herbicide aminotriazole and sale of all cranberry products were halted.
Carson promoted use of the more technically precise term “biocides” rather than the ubiquitously used pesticides to highlight that their effects are hardly ever limited to the target pests but are often completely indiscriminate and in fact often more effective against the insect predators of pest species than against the pests themselves. She predicted increased negative consequences of their use in the future, especially since targeted pests are effectively selected for resistance to pesticides (as only resistant individuals survive to breed thereby spreading this trait more rapidly through the species) and weakened ecosystems depleted of their natural biodiversity fall prey to unanticipated invasive species. She concluded her section on DDT in Silent Spring with advice for spraying as little as possible to limit the development of resistance so as to maintain the effectiveness of pesticides while the book closed with a call for a biotic approach to pest control as an alternative to chemical pesticides.
In the weeks before publication, there was strong opposition to Silent Spring from the vested interests, in the chemical industry. DuPont, a major manufacturer of DDT and 2,4-D, and Velsicol Chemical Company, the only manufacturer of chlordane and heptachlor, were among the first to respond. DuPont compiled an extensive report on the book’s press coverage and its estimated impact on public opinion while Velsicol threatened legal action against publications unless all planned Silent Spring features were canceled. In an approach which is now standard practice and which became honed by the smoking industry, industry representatives and lobbyists lodged a range of non-specific complaints, some anonymously while chemical companies and associated organisations produced numerous brochures and articles promoting and defending pesticide use. Others used personalised sexist attacks and smears describing her among other things as a hysterical woman (or rather spinster) who wanted to turn the earth over to the insects.
Fortunately, these attempts backfired generating huge publicity and the subsequent public response to the book, along with the vindication of her thesis by the a special panel of the Science Advisory Committee, is believed to have led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 which subsequently banned the agricultural use of DDT in the US in 1972. The Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act were also signed in 1972 and 1973 respectively. Silent Spring’s legacy was a far greater awareness of environmental issues and interest into how people affect the environment and new pressure groups were also formed around this time, most notably Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. In David Attenborough’s opinion, Silent Spring was probably the book that changed the scientific world the most (after Origin of Species by Charles Darwin). As a counter-reaction, it also led to the development of industry-sponsorerd think tanks devoted to rolling back this assault on their ‘rights’ to pollute which has now reached its zenith with the current US administration.
Again an unfortunate postscript besides the current bonfire of regulations which are there to protect American public’s clean air and water is that the situation today is far far worse than at the time Silent Spring was written with not just songbirds but many insects being wiped out by the new generations of biocides that replaced DDT.
Critiques of modern “growth” paradigm
Emerging scientific research drew new attention to existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and consequently to humanity. Among them were Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book The Population Bomb (1968) revived Malthusian concerns about the impact of exponential population growth and resulting resource shortages. Indeed, where resources such as farmland are in short supply population growth and inappropriate farming methods clearly spurs habitat destruction and environmental degradation. However, this was widely critiqued as simplistically over-emphasising population growth alone and not looking at modern means of production and levels of consumption as it is people in industrialised economies that produce much bigger impacts than those in developing economies. Also, in many cases of population-related destruction, “new” farmland is quickly taken over by big agriculture such as beef, palm oil and soy destined for export for consumption in developed countries.
In a similar vein, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report The Limits to Growth in 1972 (which at 30 million copies is the best-selling environmental book in world history), which predicted that economic growth could not continue indefinitely because of the limited availability of natural resources, particularly oil and drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities. The 1973 oil crisis also increased public concern about this problem.
In contrast to Ehrlich, in his 1971 bestselling book The Closing Circle, Barry Commoner posited that rather than population growth it was “flawed technology” which broke out of the rules of ecology that was the main cause of environmental degradation along with a social organisation which they have devised to “conquer” nature. He highlighted that since 1946 while the American population had increased 42% the standard of living had not increased greatly while the level of consumption had increased by 200 to 2000%. Radical changes in agriculture and industry whereby natural products were replaced with synthetic ones were a result of technologies adopted since World War II because these were more profitable than the old ones. Consequently, he concluded that “pollution begins in the corporate boardroom, not the family bedroom” and that the problems had arisen as corporations were entrusted with the decision as to how to provide us with food, transportation and power.
Specifically critiquing Ehrlich he stated: “saying that none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first is a copout of the worst kind” and he also highlighted the large discrepancy in pollution caused depending on wealth. In what was to become a long-running debate Commoner critiqued Ehrlich’s emphasis on population alone and highlighted that from a humanitarian perspective his solutions were unacceptable as they involved significant coercion and a disproportionate burden on the poor. He counterposed that improved, more environmentally-friendly technologies and above all social development would result in a natural decrease in population growth and reduced environmental damage.
To resolve pollution problems, he suggested that economies should be restructured to conform to the unbending laws of ecology. For example, he argued that polluting products (like detergents or synthetic textiles) should be replaced with natural products (like soap or cotton and wool). His book was one of the first to bring the idea of sustainability to a mass audience. One of Commoner’s lasting legacies is his influential four laws of ecology which underpin many of the more advanced industry initiatives to address pollution issues. These are:
Everything is connected to everything else. There is one ecosphere for all living organisms and what affects one, affects all.
Everything must go somewhere. There is no “waste” in nature and there is no “away” to which things can be thrown.
Nature knows best. Humankind has fashioned technology to improve upon nature, but such change in a natural system is, says Commoner, “likely to be detrimental to that system”.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Exploitation of nature will inevitably involve the conversion of resources from useful to useless forms.
In particular, the first two of these principles have been much in evidence in the last few years as we have discovered enormous quantities of plastic in the oceans, even down to its deepest depths, and plastic microbeads found in everything from cosmetics to toothpaste being ingested by fish and coming full circle to threaten our health.