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Royal Comission on Environmental Pollution

Response to Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution - Topics for a future study 

Submitted 30 July 2010

  1. The Geological Society is grateful for the opportunity to comment on the shortlist under consideration for a future study by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution. We have limited our comments to areas in which the expertise and experience of Earth scientists is of particular relevance, and hence have not addressed all the suggested topics.
  2. The sustainable use of phosphate seems to us a somewhat narrow topic. It might be the subject of a short study, but a better approach might be to think about chemical pollution of groundwater more broadly. (We recognise that the proposed study of phosphates extends beyond groundwater pollution, for example into issues of supply, but this is unlikely to be a very productive area of enquiry.) Nitrites in groundwater are a greater threat to human health. A cross-cutting study of chemical groundwater pollution would allow the RCEP also to address important aspects of another of the proposed topics, namely the environmental impact of pharmaceutical products. The Geological Society would be very pleased to advise further on such a study, and to identify those with appropriate expertise to help among our Fellowship, particularly with regard to relevant areas of hydrogeology and geochemistry.
  3. A comprehensive study of the impacts of low carbon energy generation on the environment would clearly be a significant undertaking. It would be unlikely to break much new ground – although there are many elements to this topic, most are well-trodden, at least in isolation – but if done well there is scope for a holistic study, reconciling diverse strands of existing work, to have considerable and timely impact with regard to policy making. If this subject is pursued, we would recommend looking at the overall environmental effects (and potential conflicts) of possible future low carbon mixes of UK energy generation, focusing on the cradle-to-grave resource implications. Important considerations include: supply of building materials (not just scarce resources, but also bulk materials such as aggregates) as well as fuel resources; lifetime energy requirements for the full life cycle of generating infrastructure, including decommissioning and waste disposal; and the environmental impacts of outputs and wastes. Again, this is an area in which the Geological Society would feel well placed to contribute and to identify those with relevant expertise, in a number of fields.
  4. The Geological Society commends both the topics discussed above as worthy of significant study – we recognise also that the same may be true of the other candidate topics identified in your letter, though these do not fall primarily within our area of competence. Whatever the choice of topic, we would be grateful to be kept informed as plans for this study develop, and will be happy to provide further input where appropriate.