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Metal Casting Technologies : December 2006
METAL Casting Technologies December 2006 32 FOUNDRIES ARE NOT THE ONLY ONES TO BLAME n the past heavy industries such as steelworks and foundries got most of the blame for pollution and environmental damage. Nowadays we understand that not just industrial processes but all aspects of our modern lifestyle have contributed to damage to the planet. In recent weeks a number of major reports have been published to highlight the current and future plight of the world's ecosystems. The 'Living Planet Report', a periodic review and update issued every two years by WWF -- the World Wide Fund for Nature, presents evidence to show that the world's ecosystems are being degraded faster than ever such that by 2050 human beings will need at least "two planets' worth of natural resources" to live as we now do1. The WWF report goes on to say that if everyone lived in the same way as people in the UK then we would need three planets. In terms of ecological footprint, which measures man's reliance on natural resources the UK is not the worst, lying 14th with the United Arab Emirates, the United States and Finland having the largest footprints per person. A second major report, the Stern Review into the economics of climate change, warns that if we do nothing about arresting climate change then the world could face a massive global recession. This report, commissioned by the UK Treasury, is the first to use an economic argument for environmental improvements and states that cutting emissions and arresting global warming will save not cost industrialized nations money2. George Bush and some parts of the foundry industry will no doubt take some persuading. The European Union has always taken the lead in the battle against climate change with the original 15 members (EU-15) committed to an 8% cut on 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2012 as part of the Kyoto agreement. Unfortunately, in spite of considerable environmental legislation and other anti-pollution measures the EU has recently reported that it is nowhere near its reduction target. The EU prediction is that, based on current measures, the emissions of the EU-15 in 2010 will only be 0.6% below those of 1990 with seven nations -- Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain set to exceed their individual limits. Only two countries are on track to beat their targets -- Sweden and the UK. The European experience, with emissions from transport having increased so much that they have negated the hard won improvements in emission control by heavy industries, suggests that there is a very difficult road ahead in reducing the rate of growth of emissions in countries like China, India and other developing countries. HOW FOUNDRIES HAVE IMPROVED When the writer left school to work in the metals industry in Birmingham 45 years ago many foundries, like much of industry in the UK, were very dirty, dusty, smelly places -- the Black Country around Birmingham certainly lived up to its name. Later on, in 1972 one of my fellow lecturers, R.A Higgins described the situation in the preface to one his textbooks for technicians with the words "On its way to the sea the Tame spews industrial poison of the Black Country into the unsuspecting Trent, doing little to maintain the ecological stability of that river". In the preface to the second edition of his book in 19873 he reflected on the progress that had been made in cleaning up the Tame by commenting: "We must not be complacent -- after all keeping the environment clean and wholesome should be regarded as part of the industrial process". Ray Higgins was a bit special as a metallurgist. In the UK, as in Europe and the US, all industries especially foundries have now considerably cleaned up their act. The improvements are not just down to bigger and bigger sticks from government authorities but are also due to the responsible attitudes and guidance shown and provided by foundry institutions in these countries, notably the Institute of Cast Metals Engineers (formerly Institute of British Foundrymen) in the UK and the American Foundrymen's Society. As a result, at foundry conferences in Europe and the US there are usually special sessions devoted to papers dealing with environmental and health & safety issues. In contrast, in Asia the picture is quite different. During the last four Asian Foundry Congress meetings (Calcutta 1999, Taipei 2001, Bangkok 2003 and Hanoi 2005) out of a total of 260 presentations only two dealt directly with environmental topics. This apparent lack of attention to environmental issues by the cast metals industry and its related R&D and academic establishments in Asia no doubt stems from the casual approach to environmental regulations and their enforcement by some authorities in the region. Clean foundries in Thailand -- can do! By Dr. John Pearce