Engineering and ecology: Air pollution in New Zealand.
- Department of Health, Wellington
The control of air pollution is more of an art than a science, still lacking an adequate power of numeration to qualify as a truly scientific discipline, despite a long history of concern about it. There was, for example, legislation against air pollution in London in the 13th century, and, until the time of Pasteur, sundry qualities of "night airs" and "fetid vapours" were held responsible for most human ailments. When the public health revolution occurred in the 19th century the establishment of a very real relationship between water pollution and personal hygiene and disease seems to have diverted attention from air pollution. It became the Cinderella of the environmental sciences and was largely neglected until the second half of this century.
The lack of progress in more recent years has been, at least in part, the result of inadequate instrumentation. It has been possible to measure very low concentrations of pollutants in the atmosphere for a considerable time but only by tedious wet chemistry methods requiring comparatively long sampling times. The results of such measurements, even if they gave adequate resolution, which mostly they did not, hid the detail which was subjectively obvious to the sense of smell or sight. This often led to impatience or down-right disbelief of the results of scientific investigations in the field-a very discouraging situation for the scientist. The problem was, in fact, very much more complex than it appeared -analytically one or two magnitudes more difficult than the allied areas of industrial hygiene, water pollution and radioactive pollution, all of which have progressed much faster.