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Sludge on Tap: Queensland's First Water Pollution Legislation, 1944-1985

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Before the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s, controls on water pollution in Australia were piecemeal, scattered through a number of Acts. These often regulated pollution by compromises with the polluters, rather than preventing it outright, unless a threat to public health could be proved. This situation characterised the first Act written specifically to control water pollution in the Australian state of Queensland, sparked by the pollution of the Herbert River with tin dredge effluent after 1944. Conditions imposed on the dredge operations were compromises, chosen for their utility for dredging rather than their effectiveness, and further legislation maintained the situation so that pollution of the river and water supplies drawn from it continued for 40 years. The Act, and the pollution episode which sparked it, are an example of a theme noticeable in some pre-1970s pollution cases: controls were imposed that were cheap to implement or useful to the polluting agency, but which were ineffective in stopping pollution outright. Unfortunately, in Queensland, that attitude persisted after other jurisdictions had moved to more environmentally sensitive styles of pollution management.
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Keywords: dredging history; tin dredging; water pollution

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2009

More about this publication?
  • Environment and History is an interdisciplinary journal which aims to bring scholars in the humanities and biological sciences closer together, with the deliberate intention of constructing long and well-founded perspectives on present day environmental problems.

    Environment and History has a Journal Impact Factor (2018) of 0.800. 5 Year Impact Factor: 0.918.
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