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Solutions and Dilutions

New 6 June 2005

A favorite phrase of Civil and Environmental Engineers -- the type who work with sewage and waste product disposal -- is:

"The solution to pollution is dilution."

Clever, no? Those engineers do have a way with words (even if they often can't spell them).

Nevertheless, this phrase -- even a mantra -- was popular long before the first Earth Day. It seems to encapsulate so much, and makes the basic answer to all pollution really rather simple. If there are noxious gases fuming from a smokestack, no problem. Just blend the gases with enough air and pretty soon you will hardly be able to tell there is anything amiss. Of course, if there are enough smokestacks spewing out enough noxious gases -- of every nuance and variety -- then the needed amount of clean air to dilute the process might not be enough for the local area. Then it's called acid rain or smog, or pea soup atmospherics, or some such. In this case, one has to depend upon the bigger picture -- or just move to a place where clean air is a greater percentage of the mix, and is still considerable to be breathable.

The same, of course, applies to water -- and the sewage, noxious elements, stockyard animal wastes, industrial filth, and so forth and so on -- and the watery attempts to dilute down the yukky stuff so that it's... hardly... noticeable. Of course, we might have to resort to using an ocean (or a couple of oceans) in order to obtain enough water. The worldly advice therefore is just don't live down wind or down stream from the source(s) of unhealthy gases, fluids, mushy solidified stuff, etceteras. And don't dwell on faults, either.


[In the time honored tradition of Halexanria, there is inevitably a "however"!]

Consider the phenomenon of Homeopathy. Here one takes a solution which, for example, kills unwanted bacteria, dilutes the solution with pure water down to the point where there is a negligible probability of their being a single atom of the original solution in the diluted version, and then discovering that the diluted version is still capable of killing the unwanted bacteria (and probably without any other side effects).

This sounds like a really cool idea. Unless, of course, the unwanted bacteria is technically referred to as Homo sapiens sapiens.

The good news is that in order to obtain functional Homeopathic remedies, the diluting process must typically be very carefully controlled. Haphazard diluting of solutions does not work. Usually. For the most part. In most cases.

Okay, so there's always a low-probability exception to the rule. At least from a homopathic viewpoint.

The greater problem, however, is that some noxious byproducts of our industrial age are of sufficient potency that there just may not be enough air or water on the planet earth to dilute the little buggers enough to make them safe. The solution to such pollution is still dilution. It's just that there's not enough diluting capability of the Earth to make the solution a terrestrial solution.

Many viruses, bacteria, and other plague-causing ingredients often have extremely high potencies such that a very little bit can do a lot of damage. For this reason their transmission is usually the main concern of health officials, while the idea of diluting their potency is typically never considered. After all, the fact that one might want to dilute a plague by confining it to New York City and using all of the people therein... has certain political overtones that even Sir Rudy Gulianni might fail to appreciate.

Radioactive wastes, on the other hand, have a notorious resistance to simple dilution if only because of their high potency and their ability for very little solution to cause a whole lot of problems. This has been demonstrated rather conclusively by the pattern of deformed infant birth statistics being on the increase during times of nuclear bomb testing periods, and then slacking off during test ban treaties being in force.

Unfortunately, the percentages of the number of deformed births to all births is again on the rise, and in this case, almost certainly do (at least in part) to the use of Depleted Uranium in the Persian Gulf and other recent wars. What it all comes down to is that a careless use of such efficient weapons of mass destruction (i.e. any weapon using radioactive materials) by the United States, England, or anyone else has the potential to have very serious consequences for the entire planet. In effect when it comes to those advocating the use of such weapons, and the rest of us, there's not enough room on the planet for both of us.

Dilution may sound like a good solution to pollution, but the human race has now reached the point of creating more pollution than there is available dilution. We might want to do something about that.



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