A distinguished scientist exposes the ecology extremists as promoting eight fallacies about alleged pollution of our environment.


The Eight Surprises

by John J. McKetta


��� Th E.P. Schoch Professor

��� Department of Chemical Engineering

��� University of Texas



On March 27, 1973, I heard Garner Ted Armstrong say over the television:"There is no way you can have any optimism for the continuation of life on this earth because of the pollution,over-population, and results of techno- logical advances."


It disturbs me that there are so many purveyors of gloom talking about the hopelessness of our future.


There is an entire spectrum, from zero to infinity, of views and actions on almost any problem. Let's take the pollution problem, for example. We all know there are still some companies and cities who put toxic gases and liquids into our air and streams. It's almost unbelievable that many of our large cities still discharge raw sewage,or only partially treated sewage, into our streams. Both industry and the cities should immediately be forced to stop these flagrant violations.


On the other extreme we have those people who wish to have distilled water in the streams and zero particulates in the atmosphere. These are impossible concentrations and could not be attained even if we had no people on earth. The answer, obviously, is a situation somewhere between these two extremes.


Just like most of you, I am a family man. My lovely wife and I have four wonderful children. It is my wish that they (and I) have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink -- not distilled water nor absolutely pure air.But I do want them to have odorless,non-toxic, clean air, and clean water. I believe we still have a great deal of environmental work to do in the U.S.A. I believe, however, that extremism is bad on either end of the spectrum. �


We're all deeply concerned about reports. of the destruction of our environment as a result of technological recklessness, over-population, and the lack of consideration to the preservation of nature. As Chairman of the National Air Quality Commission, I have to read great volumes of technical literature on this subject. I've turned up a lot of evidence that I'd like to share with you.


Some of the people (who are filled with gloom and believe we have no future) blame our apparent demise on the Judeo-Christian ethic that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends. They believe we have overdone our exploitation. Others recommend that we turn the clock back 2,001 years and revert to the life style of druidism. Many, many people express a disdain for science and mistrust in technology in general.


The same people say our automobiles are no longer a wondrous method of freeing man from his immobility,but instead cars have become terrible polluters and ultimately piles of junk to desecrate the landscape. Electricity,which has been the most convenient form of energy ever available, has fallen into disrepute. The utility that produces electricity is viewed as an evil organization of the Establishment whose objective is to create new radiation hazards with nuclear power plants, cut down trees, stick poles into the ground, and pump smoke into the air to poison all of us.


It's a gloomy Picture indeed. But I've found out this outlook is not justified. This is what I'd like to talk to you about. I hope you'll understand that I'm speaking as one who understands elementary science and engineering and not as an emotional supporter of any particular "side" of ecology.Some of the facts I will mention may surprise many of you. I can assure you that my conclusions are supported by evidence that is difficult to interpret in any other way. They may be verified by anyone who wishes to do so. A bibliography follows.


Surprise One: Is the oxygen disappearing?


My first surprise concerns the air we breathe. You may have read that we are seriously depleting the oxygen in the atmosphere and replacing it with toxic gas, like carbon monoxide.


Throughout my formal education I was taught that the oxygen in our atmosphere is supplied by green plants using the process of photosynthesis. It is known that plants take in carbon dioxide and, through activation by sunlight, combine CO2 with water to make starches and cellulose, and give off oxygen. In this way the whole chain of plant and animal life is sustained by energy from the sun.


When the vegetable or animal materials thus produced are eaten,burned, or decay, they combine with oxygen and return to the carbon dioxide and water from whence they came. We a11 know this. So -- what is the big surprise?


Surprise Number One is that most of the oxygen in the atmosphere doesn't come from photosynthesis. The evidence is now overwhelming that photosynthesis is clearly inadequate to have produced the amount of oxygen that is present in our atmosphere. The reason is that the amount of oxygen produced by photosynthesis is just exactly enough to convert the plant tissue back to the carbon dioxide and water from which it came. In other words, the net gain in oxygen due to photosynthesis is extremely small.


The oxygen in the atmosphere had` to come from another source. The most likely possibility involves the photo dissociation of water vapor in the upper atmosphere by high energy rays from the sun and by cosmic rays. This process alone could have produced(over the history of the earth, 4.5X10^9 years --- [No, no, NO!]). about 7 times the present mass of oxvgen in the atm 2.11


The significance of this scientific information is that the supply of oxygen in the atmosphere is virtually unlimited. It is not threatened by men's activities in any significant way at all.


We can forget the depletion of oxygen in the atmosphere


January 7, 1976 and get on with the solution of more serious problems.'


Surprise Two: Carbon monoxide will kill us all!

As you know, the most toxic component of automobile exhaust is carbon monoxide. Each year man adds 270 million tons of carbon monoxide to the atmosphere. Most of this comes from automobiles. The scientists are concerned about the accumulation of this toxic material because they know that it has a life in dry air of about 3 years.For the past several years, monitoring stations on land and sea have been measuring the carbon monoxide content of the atmosphere. Since the ratio of automobiles in the northern and southern hemisphere is 9: 1 respectively, it was expected that the northern hemisphere measurements would show a much higher concentration of atmosphericcarbon monoxide. The true measurements show, however, thatis no difference in CO amounts between the hemispheres end that the overall concentration of CO in the air is not increasing at all. In fact, they've found higher concentrations of CO over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans than over land, where the cars are!


Early in 1971, scientists at the Stanford Research Institute in Palo Alto disclosed that they had done some experiments in smog chambers containing soil. They reported that carbon monoxide rapidly disappeared from the chamber. Next, they sterilized the soil and then found that now the carbon monoxide did not disappear. They quickly identified the organisms responsible for CO removal to be fungi of the aspergillus (bread mold and penicillin types). These organisms, on a worldwide basis, are using all of the 270 million tons of the CO made by ,,, for their own metabolism, thus enriching the soils of the forest and the fields.'


This does not make carbon monoxide any less toxic. But the fact is that, in spite of man's activities, car- bon monoxide will never build up in the atmosphere to a dangerous level except on a localized basis. To put things in perspective, let me point out that the average concentration of CO in Austin, Texas, is about 1.5 parts/million. In downtown Houston, in heavy traffic, it sometimes builds up to 15 or 20 ppm. In Los Angeles it gets to be as high as 35 ppm. In parking garages and tunnels it is sometimes 50 ppm."Here is surprise Number Two - do you know that the CO content of cigarette smoke is 42,000 ppm.


The CO concentration in practically any smoke-filled room grossly exceeds the safety standards allowed in our laboratories. I don't mean to imply that 35 to 50 ppm CO should be ignored. I do mean that there are so many of us who subject ourselves to CO concentrations voluntarily (and involuntarily) that are greater than those of our worst polluted cities, including the Holland Tunnel in New York, without any catastrophic effects. It is not at all unusual for CO concentrations to reach the 100-200 ppm range in poorly ventilated, amoke-filled rooms. Incidentally, if a heavy smoker spends several hours without smoking in a highly poi- luted city air containing 35 ppb of CO concentration, the concentration of CO in his blood will actually decrease!�� In the broad expanse of our natural air,CO levels are totally safe for human beings.


Incidentally, 93 percent of the CO comes from trees and other greenery (3.5 billion tons/yr). Only 7 percent comes from man (270 million tons/yr).


Surprise Three: Oxides of nitrogen will choke us!


I have been extremely impressed by the various research efforts on the part of petroleum, automotive, and chemical companies to remove oxides of nitrogen from the products of combustion in our automobiles. I've read about the brilliant work of Dr. Haagen- Smit who showed that the oxides of nitrogen play a critical role in the chain reaction of photochemical smog formation in Los Angeles.��Oxides of nitrogen are definitely problems in places where temperature inversions trap polluted air.


But we've all known for many years that Nature, in addition to man, also produces oxides of nitrogen. The Number Three surprise (and shock) is that most atmospheric oxides of nitrogen come from Nature. If we consider only nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, the best estimates are that 97 percent are natural and only 3 percent are man made. If we include nitrous oxide and amines, it turns out that 90+ percent is natural and less than 1 percent is man-made.


Nature makes oxides of nitrogen in several ways. Biological action and organic decomposition produce most of the N2O and NO. In fact, the great saltpeter deposits of South America are a result of perpetual thunder storms over the Andes. Oxides of nitrogen in min water react with minerals ofthe soil and end up as saltpeter when the water evaporates.


The great abundance of marine life between Antarctica and the tip of South America is also attributed to the nitrate run off from the Andes which generates plankton growth, thus setting off a whole chain of fishes which eat each other, ending on the top with the blue whale.


The significance of this is that even if we are 100 percent successful in eliminating the oxides of nitrogen from combustion gases, we will still have more than 99 percent left in the atmosphere (which is produced by Nature).Sometimes I think that Nature laughs at us.


Surprise Four The death of Lake Erie


We've all read for some time that Lake Erie is dead. It's true that the beaches are no longer swimmable in the Cleveland area and that oxygen content at the bottom of the lake is decreasing. This is called eutrophication.Theblame has been placed on phospates as the cause.Housewives were urged to curb the use of phosphate detergents. In fact, for several years, phosphate detergents were taken off the market. There's been a change in the law since scientific evidence proved that the phosphate detergents were not the culprits and never should have been removed from the market in the first piece.


Now let's look at the scientific evidence that I've been able to find on the subject. The study shows that the cause of the eutrophication of Lake Erie has not been properly defined.This evidence suggests that if we totally stopped using phosphate detergents it would have no effect whatever on the eutrophication of Lake Erie. Many experiments have now been carried out that bring surprise Number Four. It is the organic carbon content from sewage that is using up the oxygen in the lake and not the phosphates in the detergents.The real reason that the Cleveland area beaches are not swimmable is that the coliform bacterial count is too high.


Enlarged and improved sewage treatment facilities by Detroit, Toledo,Sandusky, and Cleveland will be required to correct this situation. Garbage disposal units do far more to pollute Lake Erie than do the phosphate detergents. If cities put in the proper sewage treatment facilities, the lake will sparkle blue again in a very few years.


Incidentally, we've all heard that Lake Superior is so much larger, cleaner, and nicer than Lake Erie. It's kind of strange then to learn that in 1973 more tons of commercial fish were taken from Lake Erie than were taken from Lake Superior.


Thermal pollution


Governor Gilligan of Ohio declared war on pollution in general and on thermal pollution in particular. Investigation of the thermal pollution problem reveals that, beyond any question of doubt, the sun is by far the greatest thermal polluter of Lake Erie. Governor Gilligan announced that he would back legislation making it unlawful to increase the temperature of the water by more than one degree over the natural temperature. I don't know what he will do with the sun breaking the law since, as we all know, the natural temperature of Lake Erie is changed by the sun more than 40 F every year between winter (33 F and sum mer (75 F+). The natural life in the lake accommodates this change in great fashion, as it has for many thousands of years. According to my calculations, if we could store up all the electricity produced in Ohio in a whole year and use it exclusively for heating Lake Erie all at one time, it would raise the overall temperature of the lake less than 3/10ths of 1 F.


In terms of localized heating we must remember that we already have hundreds of power plants pouring warm water into streams and lakes.Forty of these are nuclear power plants.Evaluation of the effects of these from an ecological point of view is that "thermal pollution" is a less descriptive and less appropriate term than is "thermal enrichment." There are no species disappearing,no ecological catastrophies or problems have appeared. Some of the best fishing locations in the country are near the warm water outlets of these power plants.


Surprise Five Is DDT killing us?


DDT and other chlorinated compounds are supposedly endangering the lives of mankind and eliminating some bird species by the thinning of the egg shells of birds. There is a big question as to whether or not this is true. From the reading that I have done, the experiments were conducted in such a manner that positive conclusions could not be drawn from them. Even if it is true, it's quite possible that the desirable properties of DDT so greatly out number the undesirable ones that it might prove to be a serious mistake to ban entirely this remarkable chemical.


Many of you have heard of Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. He is opposed to the banning of DDT. Obviously he is a competent scientist. He won the Nobel Prize because he was able to develop a new strain of wheat that can double the food production per acre wherever in the world it can be grown.


Dr. Borlaug said: "If DDT is banned by the United States, I have wasted my life's work. I have dedicated myself to finding better methods of feeding the world's starving population. Without DDT and other important agricultural chemicals, our goals are simply unattainable."As I read into this matter I find that DDT has had a miraculous impact on arresting insect-borne diseases and increasing grain production from fields once ravaged by insects. According to the World Health Organization,malaria fatalities alone dropped from 4 million a year in the 1939 to less than 1 million per year in 1968. Other insect borne diseases, such as encephalitis,yellow fever, and typhus showed simiIar declines. Surprise Number Five is that it has been estimated that 100 million human beings who would have died of these afflictions me alive today because of DDT. Incidentally, recent tests indicate that the thinning of bird egg shells may have been caused by mercury compounds rather than DDT!


������� Surprise Six: We're killing off speciesl


Many people feel that mankind is responsible for the disappearance of the animal species. It is possible that in some instances man may hasten the disappearance of certain species. However, the abundance of that evidence indicates that he has very little to do with it. About 50 species are expected to disappear during this century. It is also true that 50 species became extinct last century and 50 species the century before that, and so on.


Dr. T.H. �Jukes of the University of California points out that about 100 million species of animal life have become extinct since life began on this planet, about 3 billion years [No, NO, NO!]ago.Animals come and animals disappear.. .


Surprise Number Six is that man has had nothing to do with the disappearances of millions of species that preceded him.


In fact, one of man's failures is that he has not been successful in eliminating a single insect species -- in spite of his all-out war on pests.


Surprise Seven Man is the real polluterl


Here's the Seventh Surprise! The late Dr. William Pecora calculated that all of man's air pollution during his thousands of years of life on earth does not equal the amount of particulate and noxious gases from just three volcano eruptions: Krakatoa, Java,1883; Mt. Katmai, Alaska, 1912; Hekla,Iceland, 1947.


Dr. Pecora also pointed out that Nature's "pure water" is not so pure after all. Here are a few of his examples:


1. The natural springs feeding the Arkansas and Red Rivers carry approximately 17 tons of salt per minute.

2. The Lemonade Springs in New Mexico carry approximately 900 lbs of H,SO, per million pounds of water.This is more than 10 times the acid concentration in coal mine effluents.

3.The Mississippi River carries over 2 million tons of natural sediment into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

4,The Paris River of Arizona makes the Mississippi look like a trout stream. It carries 500 times more natural sediment per unit volume than the Mississippi River.


Back to the good old days.Don't believe the tall tales about the happy lives that people once lived- before all this "nasty" industrialization came along.Things really weren't so happy. One of mystudents once asked me, "Whet have all these 2,000 years of development of industry and civilization done for us?Wouldn't we have been happier in 100 B.C.?"


I said "No, chances are 97 out of 100 that, if you were not a poor slave, you'd be a poor farmer, living at a bare subsistence level."


When people think of living in ancient times, they think of themselves as members of the aristocracy. They imagine they are sitting in the Agora in Athens listening to Socrates; in the Senate House in Rome debating with Cicero; riding on homes as knights of Charlemagne's time. They are never slaves, never peasants, but that's what mast of them would be.


My wife once said to me, "If we had lived a hundred years ago we'd have no trouble getting servants." I said, "If we'd lived 150 years ago, we'd be the servants."


Let's consider what life was really like in America just 150 years ago. For one thing, we didn't have to worry about pollution very long -- because life was very brief. Life expectancy of males was about 38 years of age. It was a gruelling 38 years. The work week was 72 hours.


The women's lot was even worse.They worked 98 hours a week, scrubbing floors, making clothes by hand.bringing in fire wood, cooking in heavy iron pots, fighting off insects without pesticides. Most of the clothes were rags by present-day standards. There were no fresh vegetables in winter.Vitamin deficiency diseases were prevalent. Homes were cold in winter and sweltering in the summer.


Epidemics were expected yearly and chances were high that they would carry off some members of the immediate family. If you think the water pollution is bad now, it was deadly then. In 1793 one person in every five in the city of Philadelphia died in a single epidemic of typhoid as a result of polluted water. Many people of that time never heard a symphony orchestra, or traveled more than 20 miles from their birthplace during their entire lifetime. Many informed people do not want to return to the "paradise" of 150 years ago. Perhaps the simple life was not so simple.


Practicing witchcraft


In every age people practice witchcraft in one form or another. I used to think that the people of New England were irrational in accusing certain women of being witches without evidence to prove it. Suppose someone accused you of being a witch? How could you prove you were not? It is impossible to prove unless you can give evidence.


It is precisely this same witchcraft psychology that is being used to deter the construction of nuclear power plants. The opponents are saying that these nuclear plants are witches and it is up to the builders and owners to prove that they are not.The scientific evidence is that the nuclear power plants, constructed to date, are the cleanest and least polluting devices for generating electricty so far developed by man. We need electricity to maintain the standard of living we have reached. But in the eyes of the extreme environmentalists we are the witches. We should be burned at the stake.


We hear the same accusations about anti-knock lead compounds from the gasoline engine. Our Environmental Protection Agency has no evidence that there has ever been a single case of death, or even illness, from lead in the air coming from the burning of gasoline. But the environment freaks still insist that we must remove the lead from the gasoline.


To the E.P.A. we are witches -- they have no evidence -- no proof -- we are pronounced guilty! And yet everybody knows that gasoline needs some additives to prevent engine knocks. If we don't use tetraethyl-lead we'll have to use aromatic compounds.Some aromatics are carcinogenic. We know that! The use of unleaded gasoline also uses up to 20 percent more crude oil. (Incidentally, the real reason for removing lead from gasoline was because it was suspected that lead poisoned the catalyst in the emission control unit. Now we have good evidence that it isn't the lead at all, but ethylene bromide which is the poisoner.) ''2


From what we read and hear, it would seem that we are on the edge of impending doom. But scientific evaluation of the evidence does not support this conclusion. Of course, there are some effluent problems attributed to technological activities. The solution of these problems will require a technical understanding of their nature, and their solution will not come through emotion. They cannot be solved unless they are properly identified, which will require more technically trained people -- not less.


I agree, as Thomas Jefferson did,that if the public is properly informed,the people will make wise decisions.The public has not been getting all the facts an matters relating to ecology.This is the reason why I am speaking out on this subject today -- as a technical man and as a citizen. Some of the things you have seen here are contrary to your beliefs, but I'm willing to support my conclusions on evidence good enough for me to stake my reputation on it.


Surprise Eight: We're going to live!


In summary, let me state that civilization is not on the brink of an ecological disaster. Our oxygen is not disappearing. There will be no buildup of poisonous CO. The waters can be made pure again by adequate sewage treatment plants. The disappearance of species is natural. A large percentage of pollution is natural pollution and would be here whether or not man was on this earth. We cannot solve our real problems unless we attack them on the basis of what we know rather than what we don't know. Let us use our knowledge and not our fears to solve our problems.