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Etymology and Use of the Term "Pollution"

Authors:
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, United States, Retired.
Etymology
and
Use
of
the Term Vollution"
MEHAEL
A.
CHAMP
The
American University, W7ashington,
DC
20016,
USA
Through the decades sf the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's the popular media used the term
""pllution" widely as a generality (such as "Lake Erie is polluted"), usually with no
reference to the degree or state of pollution. Many scientists were asked to determine "how
polluted" or "by what" with reference to preventative or corrective measures. Probably
every major river, stream, and lake, and most of the coastal zone in the lower
48
states
has been sampled to determine if it is polluted and, if so, how polluted.
But what is pollution? Is it a social or scientific concept? Many times I have slipped the
question 'define pollution" into a student's comprehensive exam, hoping to lem the
answer. I found out early that most quantified their answer only in environmental terns,
such as increased level of contaminant(s)
,
oxygen depletion, increased chlosophylls,
decreased taxa, or increased abundance of contaminant-tolerant organisms.
A National Academy of Sciences Workshop on the Tropospheric Transport of Pollutants
to the Ocean concluded the following (U.S. NAS 1978):
The term pollutant is not definitive. An element or compound injected into the environ-
ment as a consequence of Man's activities is not a pollutant
per
se;
it becomes a pollutant
when its distribution, concentration, and chemical or physical behavior are such as to have
undesirable or deleterious consequences. Thus, attaching a label of pollutant to a specific
material presumes
a
considerable knowledge about its impact on the environment; knowl-
edge that, for the most part,
is
lacking for the marine environment.
Only a few authors have contributed scholarly deliberations regarding the use and
definition of the tern pollution (Warren 1971; Mackenthun 1973; U.S.
NAS
1978;
GESAMP 1980; Geyer 1981). A review of the origin and previous usage of this word is
required to understand its present usage. The best historical review is found in Warren
(1971), who reports that the word pollution is an adaptation of the Latin "pollutionem,"
meaning defilement, and from "pollutus," past participle of "polluere" -to pollute, to soil
or defile, or to desecrate (Webster's Third International Dictionary 1971). It was used in
its present form, "pollution," in France in the twelfth century. The Qxford English
Dictionary documents its Middle English usage dating from the fourteenth century. Its
early English usage was associated with "defilement of man, his beliefs, or his symbols
by physical, moral, or spiritual contamination or uncleanness.
"
Webster's New Collegiate
Dictionary (1979) gives the Middle English preferred definition of pollution as "emission
of semen at other times than in coitus."
In the 1950's many investigators began to study the effects of contaminants in streams,
rivers, and lakes. During and following this period, many definitions of pollution arose,
primarily in relation to the environment:
Coulson and Forbes (1952):
The addition of something to water which changes its natural qualities so that the ripmian
proprietor does not get the natural water of the stream transmitted to him.
McKee (1952):
Means an impairment, with attendant in~ury, to the use of the water that plaintiffs sue
entitled
to
make. Unless the introduction of extraneous matter so unfavorably affects such
use, the condition created is short of pollution.
In
reality, the thing forbidden is the injury.
'The quantity introduced is immaterial.
Patrick (1953):
Anything which brings about a reduction in the diversity of aquatic life and eventually
destroys the balance of life in a stream.
Printed in Canada
(57364)
ImprimC aam Canada
(57364)
Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by China University of Petroleum on 06/06/13
For personal use only.
CAN.
B.
FISH.
AQUAT. SCI., VOL. 48(SUPPL.
2).
1983
Ide (1954):
Any influence on the stream brought about by the introduction of materials to it which
adversely affects the organisms living in the stream.
U.S. Public Health Service (1962): For the purpose of Drinking Water Standards means
"the presence of any foreign substance (organic, inorganic, radiological,
or
biological) in
water which tends to degrade its quality so as to constitute
a
hazard or impair the usefulness
of the water."
U.
S.
Resident's Science Advisory Committee (1 965):
The unfavorable alteration of our surroundings wholly or largely as a by-product of man's
actions, through direct or indirect effects of changes in energy patterns, radiation levels,
chemical and physical constitution, and abundances of organisms. These changes may
affect man directly, or through his supplies of water and of agricultural and other biolog-
ical products, his physical objects or possessions or his opportunities for recreation and
appreciation faf nature.
National Research Council Committee on Pollution (U. S
.
NAS 1966):
An undesirable change
in
the physical, chemical, or biological characteristics of our air,
land, and water that may or will harmfully affect human life or that faf other desirable
species, our industrial processes, living conditions, and cultural assets; or that may or will
waste or deteriorate our raw material resources.
Wmen (1971):
An impaiirnent of the suitability of water for any of its beneficial uses, actual far potential,
by man-caused changes in the quality of the water.
U.S. Congress (1978): The term ocean pollution "means any short-term or long-term
change in the marine environment
."
GESAMP (1 986):
The introduction by man, directly or indirectly, of substances or energy into the marine
environment (including estuaries) resulting in such deleterious effects as harm to living
resources, hazards to human health, hindrance to marine activities including fishing,
impairment faf quality for use of sea water and reduction of amenities.
This is also the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commissions' (IOC) definition.
Geyer (1981): Makes numerous comparisons of "natural" and "man-made" pollution
(i.e. "the Amazon each day dumps
3
X
106 tons of fine sediments into the Atlantic") and
suggests that "all too often reactions to pollution on the part of many have been one of
subjectivity rather than objectivity; and emotionalism overcoming logic to severely cloud
reasonable perspectives in evaluating a given pollution situation."
Champ
(
1975):
Any man-made alteration of the existing environment that adversely affects the natural
quality and quantity of the environment for life.
I
also have observed that most natural
("Mother Nature") pollution events are of short duration or non-continuous (i.e., flood
-
maximum
7-
10 days' disturbance), whereas man-made is usually of much longer dura-
tion (months, years, etc.). Exceptions to this would
k:
(1) natural oxygen depletion and
associated benthic mortalities in the New York Bight in 1976; (2) "Red tide" algal blooms
with massive toxicity-related mortality;
(3)
naturally occurring oil seeps; and
(4)
eruptions
(Mount St. Helens [1982], etc.). These events, due to their non-continuity, appear to be
survival sf the fittest testing grids, exerting evolutionary pressures to selectively expand
the tolerance of species or to eliminate non-successful genes from the breeding stock.
On November
4,
1977, the U.S. Congress amended the Maine Protection, Research,
and Sanctuaries Act (Public Law 92-532, commonly referred to as the Ocean Dumping
Act,
see
U.S. Congress 1972)
so
that ocean dumping of ''harmful" sewage sludge would
not be dlowed after December 31, 1981, This Federal law defines "harmful" sewage
sludge to be "any solid, semisolid,
or
liquid waste generated by a municipal wastewater
treatment plant, the ocean dumping of which may unreasonably degrade
or
endanger
human health, welfare, amenities
or
the marine environment, ecological systems
or
economic potentialities" (33 USC 14 1 1
,
14 12a). The U. S
.
Environmental Protection
Agency 6U.S. EPA) interpreted this requirement to prohibit all ocean dumping of sewage
sludge, because sewage sludge failed U.S. EPA's ocean dumping criteria (bioassay tests).
The U.S. EPA's interpretation was challenged by the City of New York in Federal Court
(The City of New York vs the U.S. EPA). The City contended that land-based alternatives
Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by China University of Petroleum on 06/06/13
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CHAMP:
ETYMOLOGY
AND
USE
OF
THE
TERM
"POLLUTION"
are less socially and economically desirable than ocean dumping. The U .S. District Court
(1981) ruled in favor of New York City, imposing a balancing requirement in which the
U.S. EPA must weigh the financial costs and environmental impacts of land-based alter-
natives and the effects of dumping at the dumpsite in determining the unreasonableness.
In essence, this action requires a Federal agency to assess social, economic, and environ-
mental impact data to determine the acceptability of a polluting act. A polluting act is
deemed acceptable if there is
a
lack of "unreasonable" degradation when compared with
the social, economic, or environmental burden imposed by the alternatives.
The variety of usage is derived from the perspectives of (1) chemists: presence of
contaminants,
(2)
biologists and ecologists: effect on organisms and on ecosystems, and
(3)
policy or decision makers: impairment of water use or benefit (resource value).
The future use of "pollution" will require an integration of these three perspectives or
we will continue with our debate. David A. Flemer (U.S. EPA, Chesapeake Bay Research
Program, Annapolis,
MB
2
140
1,
personal communication) in reviewing this manuscript
focused on this and defined pollution "as the introduction or redistribution of energy or
materials through human activities that affects ecological processes which alters an eco-
system's output of goods and services from a defined reference state". We define "goods"
as renewable resources, "services" (i
.
e
.
waste assimilation), and "state" as spatial and
temporal boundaries with judgmental values of a system defined in part by use. This
definition separates roles, it recognizes the responsibility that scientists have in making
technical assessments of ecosystem processes (including structure and function) as influ-
enced by human activities, md it leaves to the policy and decision maker (the publicly
elected
official) to assess and interpret social values. A clear distinction of roles is needed
to prevent loss of objectivity and credibility. The environmental movement is suffering
today from a swing of the pendulum that is in part brought about by this and economic
conditions.
In summary, "pollution" has become another "dinner table" or "news media" term and
should be viewed as a social and political concept and not a scientific one. Its environ-
mental connotation is relative to social and political values and, in my opinion, economic
conditions of a given period.
CHAMP, M. A.
1975.
Current status of nutrient loading in the nation's estuaries,
p.
237-257.
Estuarine Pollution Control and Assessment Conference. Vol.
1.
U.S. EPA Office of Water
Planning and Standards, Washington, DC.
COULSON,
H. J. W.,
AND
U. A.
FORBES.
1952.
The law of waters, sea, tidal and island, and of land
drainage.
6th
ed.
S.
W.
Hobday. [ed.] Sweet and Maxwell, London.
1320
p.
GESAMP (JOINT GROUP
OF
EXPERTS
ON
THE
SCIENTIFIC ASPECTS
OF
MARINE POLLUTION).
IMCO/FAO/UNESCQ/WMO/WHO/IAEA/UN/UNEP.
1980.
Report of the Eleventh
Session, Dubrovnik, Yugoslavia,
25-29
Feb.
1980.
Reports and Studies No.
10.
14
p.
+
1x Annex's.
GEYER, R. A. [ed.]
1981.
Marine environmental pollution,
2:
Dumping and mining. Elsevier
Scientific Publishing Company, New York.
574
p.
IDE,
F.
P.
1954.
Pollution in relation to stream life, p.
$6-
108.
In
First Ontario Industrial Waste
Conference. Pollution Control Board of Ontario, Toronto, Ont.
121
p.
MACKE~HUN,
K.
M.
1973.
Toward a cleaner aquatic environment. U. S. Government Printing
Office, Washington, DC.
273
p.
McKEE, J.
E.
[ed.]
1952,
Water quality criteria. California State Water Pollution Control Board
Bublication
3:
5 12
p.
PATIPICK, R.
1953.
Biological phases of stream poIlution. Roc. Penn. Acad. of Sci.
27:
33
-36.
U.S. CONGRESS.
1972.
The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of
1972.
(P.L.
92-532). 33
U.S.C.
1401
et. seq.
1978.
National mean pollution research and development and monitoring planning act of
1978.
(P.L.
95-273). 33
U.S.C.
1701
et. seq.
U.S. DISTRICT COURT, SOUTHERN DISTRICT
OF
NEW YORK.
198
1.
$0
Civ.
1677.
A.
D. Sofaer.
14.
S
.
NATIONAL ACADEMY
OF
SCIENCES (NAS)
.
1966.
Waste management and controls. Committee
on Pollution, National Research Council, Washington, DC.
257
p.
1978.
The tropospheric transport
of
polIutants and other substances to the oceans. National
Research Council, Washington, DC.
243
p.
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RSH. AQUAT. SCH., VOL. 4Q(SUPPL. 2)- 1983
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S
.
PRESIDENT'S SCIENCE ADVISORY COMMITTEE. 1965. Restoring the quality sf our environment.
Environmental Pollution Panel Report. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington,
DC.
317 p.
U.
S.
PUBLHG
HEALTH SERVICE. 1962. Drinking water standads. Publication 956. U.S. Department
of Health, Education,
and
Welfare. Washington, DC.
61
p.
WARREN, C.
E.
1971. Biology and water pollution control. W.
B.
Saunders Co. Philadelphia,
PA.
434 p.
WEBSTER'S THIRD INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY. 1971.
G
&
C Merriam Co., Springfield,
MA.
2662 p.
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&
C
Merriam
Co.,
Springfield,
MA.
1532
p.
Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by China University of Petroleum on 06/06/13
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The law of waters, sea, tidal and island, and of land drainage
  • U S Epa
  • Water Office
  • Planning
  • Standards
  • Dc Washington
  • H J W Coulson
  • U A And
  • Forbes
U.S. EPA Office of Water Planning and Standards, Washington, DC. COULSON, H. J. W., AND U. A. FORBES. 1952. The law of waters, sea, tidal and island, and of land drainage. 6th ed. S. W. Hobday. [ed.] Sweet and Maxwell, London. 1320 p. GESAMP (JOINT GROUP OF EXPERTS ON THE SCIENTIFIC ASPECTS OF MARINE POLLUTION).
The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. (P.L. 92-532). 33 U.S.C. 1401 et. seq. 1978. National mean pollution research and development and monitoring planning act of 1978
  • U S Congress
U.S. CONGRESS. 1972. The Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. (P.L. 92-532). 33 U.S.C. 1401 et. seq. 1978. National mean pollution research and development and monitoring planning act of 1978. (P.L. 95-273). 33 U.S.C. 1701 et. seq.
Biological phases of stream poIlution
  • R Patipick
PATIPICK, R. 1953. Biological phases of stream poIlution. Roc. Penn. Acad. of Sci. 27: 33 -36.
Marine environmental pollution, 2: Dumping and mining Pollution in relation to stream life
  • R A Geyer
  • F P Ide
GEYER, R. A. [ed.] 1981. Marine environmental pollution, 2: Dumping and mining. Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, New York. 574 p. IDE, F. P. 1954. Pollution in relation to stream life, p. $6-108. In First Ontario Industrial Waste Conference. Pollution Control Board of Ontario, Toronto, Ont. 121 p. M A C K E ~ H U N, K. M. 1973. Toward a cleaner aquatic environment. U. S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 273 p.
The tropospheric transport of polIutants and other substances to the oceans Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by Depository Services Program on 12/13/14 For personal use only
  • S National Academy Of Sciences ( Nas )
S. NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (NAS). 1966. Waste management and controls. Committee on Pollution, National Research Council, Washington, DC. 257 p. 1978. The tropospheric transport of polIutants and other substances to the oceans. National Research Council, Washington, DC. 243 p. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by Depository Services Program on 12/13/14 For personal use only. Environmental Pollution Panel Report. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC. 317 p. U. S. PUBLHG HEALTH SERVICE. 1962. Drinking water standads. Publication 956. U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Washington, DC. 61 p. WARREN, C. E. 1971. Biology and water pollution control. W. B. Saunders Co. Philadelphia, PA. 434 p. WEBSTER'S THIRD INTERNATIONAL DICTIONARY. 1971. G & C Merriam Co., Springfield, MA. 2662 p. WEBSTER'S NEW COLLEGIATE DICTIONARY. 1979. G & C Merriam Co., Springfield, MA. 1532 p. Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. Downloaded from www.nrcresearchpress.com by Depository Services Program on 12/13/14 For personal use only.
Current status of nutrient loading in the nation's estuaries
  • M A Champ
CHAMP, M. A. 1975. Current status of nutrient loading in the nation's estuaries, p. 237-257. Estuarine Pollution Control and Assessment Conference. Vol. 1. U.S. EPA Office of Water Planning and Standards, Washington, DC.