Trashing the Planet
by Dixie Lee Ray
Editor's Note: We live in an age in which alarmists warn us about everything from potential political catastrophes to claimed food disasters. Some time, ago we were sent the following fictitious example of how the powers-that-be might react to the discovery of water if they followed the logic frequently applied in today's world. We hope you get as much of a laugh out of it as we did.
ICI has announced the discovery of a new firefighting agent to add to their existing range. Known as WATER (Wonderful and Total Extinguishing Resource), it augments, rather than replaces, existing agents such as dry powder and BCF (bromine-chlorine-fluorine), which have been in use from time immemorial. It is particularly suitable for dealing with fires in buildings, timber yards, and warehouses.
Though required in large quantities, it is fairly cheap to produce and it is intended that quantities of about a million gallons should be stored in urban areas and near other installations of high risk ready for immediate use. BCF and dry power are usually stored under pressure, but WATER will be stored in open ponds or reservoirs and conveyed to the scene of the fire by hoses and portable pumps.
ICI's new proposals are already encountering strong opposition from safety and environmental groups. Professor Connie Barrinner has pointed out that if anyone immersed his head in a bucket of WATER, it would prove fatal in as little as three minutes. Each of ICI's proposed reservoirs will contain enough WATER to fill 500,000 two-gallon buckets. Each bucketful could be used 100 times, so there is enough WATER in one reservoir to kill the entire population of the UK. Risks of this size, said Professor Barrinner, should not be allowed, whatever the gain. If the WATER were to get out of control, the results of Flixborough or Seveso would pale into insignificance by comparison. What use was a firefighting agent that could kill men as well as fire?
A local authority spokesman said that he would strongly oppose planning permission for construction of a WATER reservoir in this area, unless the most stringent precautions were followed. Open ponds were certainly not acceptable. What would prevent people falling in them? What would prevent the contents from leaking out? At the very least, the WATER would need to be contained in a steel pressure vessel surrounded by a leakproof concrete wall.
A spokesman from the fire brigades said he did not see the need for the new agent. Dry powder and BCF could cope with most fires. The new agent would bring with it risks, particularly to firemen, greater than any possible gain. Did we know what would happen to this new medium when it was exposed to intense heat? It had been reported that WATER was a constituent of beer. Did this mean that firemen would be intoxicated by the fumes?
The Friend of the World said that they had obtained a sample of WATER and found it caused clothes to shrink. If it did this to cotton, what would it do to men?
In the House of Commons yesterday, the Home Secretary was asked if he would prohibit the manufacture and storage of this lethal new material. The Home Secretary replied that, as it was clearly a major hazard, local authorities would have to take advice from the Health and Safety Executive before giving planning permission. A full investigation was needed and the Major Hazards Group would be asked to report.
If the United States were to be faced with such a new hazard as WATER, the Environmental Protection Agency would surely initiate public hearings and rule-making procedures that would drag the process out a least five years, cost several hundred million dollars, and end up regulating the use of WATER, requiring warning labels on WATER buckets, banning the sale of many common foods that contain WATER, and requiring the testing of all air meant for breathing, because it contains WATER vapor and it can be proved without doubt that too much oxygen is toxic.
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