WIT Press

Characteristics Of Environmental Harm In The Context Of Air Pollution


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J. G. Irwin, R. Duarte-Davidson & S. J. T. Pollard


A framework that allows a simple qualitative assessment of both technical and socio-economic aspects of environmental harm has been developed; that is a framework that captures not only the physical aspects of damage but also how society may feel about it. Technical characteristics of harm include spatial and temporal extent, severity, irreversibility and uniqueness. Social aspects include dread, distrust, equity and imposition. By plotting these on separate axes of a graph it is possible to assess those attributes of greatest concern, draw conclusions as to the nature of the harm, and public perception of it, as well as gaining some insight into appropriate courses of action. The results of applying the methodology to a radioactive release are presented and placed in the context of a range of other air pollution hazards. 1 Introduction Comparing the environmental harm arising from a range of hazards to different receptors is difficult. Conventionally harm to the environment is assessed by the magnitude of the impact, usually by reference to the exceedence, or otherwise, of environmental standards. However, the use of standards in isolation has limitations. They may not take into account other important characteristics of the damage such as delayed onset, irreversibility or the uniqueness of the environmental resource at risk. Nor do they necessarily take account of the values society places on different components of the environment. These broader aspects are critical to strategic decision-making and become particularly important when prioritising issues. The approach described here involves identifying technical and