The Earth is one ecological unit. The student of disease pandemics-cholera, plague, influenza-has long understood that the world is bound by bacterial bonds. When the volcano Krakatoa exploded in the Dutch East Indies in August 1883, the sun was darkened by the debris scattered across oceans and the roar was heard in Japan and the Philippines. Earthquakes in Japan have affected the levels of wells in California and Texas. In July 1968, it was reported that violent rains and winds in England brought airborne red silts from the Sahara Desert.

Whenever man eats, drinks, works, fights or plays he creates modifications in his environment. The consequences of such disturbances may be small, great or worldwide. They depend upon the nature, the place, the time and the intensity of his activities. The artificial political boundaries which separate cities, states, countries and regions are myriad; the areas they enclose range from the minuscule to the vast land mass of the Soviet Union. With such geographic diversity, it is inevitable that the movement of wastes by water, air and land will often cross national and international barriers. "Around the World in Eighty Days" was not imaginary for man, nor is it for his wastes.

Although this passage of physical, chemical and biological materials has long confronted us, the consequences have become more evident in the last half-century. Industrialization, urbanization and explosive population growth have combined to intensify interest and concern. Society is thus forced, with all the ingenuity at its command, to restore the desired quality of its surroundings. The task requires a determination of the condition, including concentration, time and place under which potentially polluting wastes may be disposed of to nature without adverse effects upon human health, animal and plant life and materials.

There has been much public discussion-and not only in the United States- regarding the deteriorating quality of the world environment. The reasons for the mounting interest and indeed excitement are succinctly stated in the 1965 Report of the Environmental Pollution Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee: "The production of pollutants and an increasing need for pollution management are an inevitable concomitant of a technological society with a high standard of living. Pollution problems will increase in importance as our technology and standard of living continue to grow."

The issues vary from country to country and from region to region. In the industrially developed countries, prompt actions to alleviate pollution are required, whereas in many parts of Asia and Africa air pollution ranks well below the pressing necessities for increasing the food supply and for general economic development. The delayed or mistaken actions of the developed countries in controlling the environment should not be repeated in the developing regions.

Although one cannot overemphasize the necessity of moving rapidly toward upgrading the quality of our surroundings, there should be a balance between the prophets of doom and those who say "all is well." Many public pronouncements fail to recognize that society has provided corrective measures over the last half-century and at a cost of billions of dollars. More of this money has gone into abating pollution in the water than in the air. For example, very large parts of the Potomac and the Ohio Rivers and the Thames River in England are in better condition today than 20 years ago. The quality of the air in Pittsburgh and in London is likewise greatly improved over that of decades ago. Such reminders should not be interpreted as apologies for the many examples of parallel deteriorations, but as encouragement to speed up correctives.

The difficulties in the way of moving more rapidly are not usually technologic. Science and technology have already provided innumerable means for reversing the process of deterioration. The failure lies primarily in the speed with which they are applied. The search should be for still simpler, cheaper and quicker methods, leading to more rapid implementation.

Industrial changes have resulted in the lessening of both water and air pollution. For instance, the introduction of gas and oil for energy uses has had great benefit in many areas. The production of waste per unit of many consumer goods has been consistently reduced over the years. In many instances, these benefits result from other sources than direct measures to abate pollution.

Since our understanding of the ecology of the fresh and sea waters leaves much to be desired, hasty conclusions and actions resting on little knowledge may do harm or waste money. The attempt to deal with fish mortality in rivers, lakes or seas is an example. Whether this is due in various instances to willful or accidental pollution, to natural infections of disease, to meteorologic and hydrologic changes, to the appearance of hostile marine life or to overfishing is still not always ascertainable. Often it is easier to ascribe such events to "pollution" rather than to admit that the necessary biologic understanding and explanations are in fact not available.

In every country, whether rich or poor, the most important restraint on necessary action is lack of funds. Corrections virtually always cost money. Unfortunately, although there are examples of getting rich by the recovery of waste materials they are rare. Governments must set priorities in budgeting their funds-and the handling of waste will not always head the list.

Actually, in the last ten years the United States has passed more corrective legislation in these fields than in its previous history; and its record compares favorably with that of any other country in the world. Incidentally, the quality of its environment compares favorably with that of other industrial countries, all of which are struggling to catch up with the consequences of growth. But no country, regardless of its political ideology, has been entirely successful. Economic considerations and the absence of institutional devices everywhere hold back progress.

Thus the world is confronted with continuing and increasing insults to the environment. Such interference with its ecology cannot be allowed to continue unchecked. Management of the world's resources in a logical and beneficial manner is completely possible in the present state of art and science. The constraints lie in public apathy, lack of political will, lack of funds and lack of a proper managerial structure and competence. A selection of priorities is inevitable in any society, even in the affluent United States. We still have the time to proceed actively toward upgrading our methods and aims. Present practices, even where damaging, have not yet resulted, with few exceptions, in irreversibly damaging our natural environment. To prevent such permanent damage is the challenge of the next ten years. Within this setting, I suggested, at the UNESCO Paris conference of September 1968, that before it is too late "some international agency should be charged with the responsibility of the continuing examination, identification and assessment of changes in the total resources picture.... Essentially, we need an intelligence agency in matters of human ecology."


Until the last few years most of the problems in pollution have been related primarily to water. This is illustrated by the definition of "pollution" adopted by the International Law Association Committee on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers. The phrase was to encompass "any detrimental change resulting from human conduct in the natural composition, content, or quality of the waters of an international drainage basin."

Of special interest is the fact that, in spite of the clarity of the definition, no international river agreement has stood the test of time without requiring repeated modification of significant terms. This is not surprising, since the conditions of adjudication or agreement are rarely static. Situations are always in flux as nations grow, as their economic character changes and as technology modifies their way of life. Unlike geographic boundary agreements, which most often are fixed, water problems and users are disturbed by the passage of time.

International coöperation in water pollution is reflected largely in the creation of bodies specifically concerned with the prevention of damage to international waterways.1 The work of various international commissions has then been used as the basis for legislation, or for purposes of standardization in individual countries.

For almost two years now, the World Health Organization has been trying to set up a project aimed at preventing pollution in the Danube basin. Preliminary data indicate that large stretches of the Danube itself are still in reasonable condition for practically any water use, but many of the tributaries and certain parts of the main river already show signs of heavy pollution. Because of the international difficulties of cleaning up pollution after it has occurred (as in the Rhine), the aim here is to institute a mechanism for saving the Danube in time. Similar action may be taken with the large international river basins in Africa (the Chad, the Niger and the Senegal) for which international river commissions have already been formed; their terms of reference include the sanitary protection of their waters.

By far the most important achievements in the protection of international water courses must be credited to bilateral agreements. These are generally more comprehensive and more detailed than the international conventions, which tend largely to be concerned with matters other than pollution (such as navigation or hydroelectric power). To date, about forty European and ten extra-European bilateral agreements have been drawn up dealing especially with protecting water from pollution.2 These agreements differ significantly. Some prescribe prevention of pollution in rather general terms without defining it. Others indicate the sources or types of polluting effluents or discharges to be prohibited. However, in most cases, no standards are set. Although a few make it incumbent upon the parties concerned to take suitable measures concerning waste-disposal and pollution, the obligation tends to be couched in the most general terms. Very few agreements specify objective parameters, as in the Belgian-French agreement for the Meuse, which if enforced would make an agreement fully effective.

Potential conflicts concern the Rhine and the Meuse. The International Commission for Protection of the River Rhine against Pollution was formed in 1950 by Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, the Federal Republic of Germany and the Netherlands. The group set about the joint testing of water quality, and in 1965 they signed a formal treaty with a firm legal base and extended its inquiries into further details. They undertook to (a) prepare studies to determine the nature, extent and origin of pollution and draw conclusions from the results of such studies; (b) recommend to the signatory governments appropriate measures for the protection of the Rhine against pollution; (c) prepare elements which may serve as a basis of future international agreements or arrangements.

What they, and others, have failed to do was to come to grips with the hard- core questions as to who was to institute corrective measures and who was to pay for them. At this writing, real international controls have not come into being. On the River Meuse, the situation has not been advanced even this far.

The international implications of air pollution were recognized at a much later stage. Specific international agreements for controlling such pollution are rare, but seem to be needed. Thus, Sweden unofficially charged recently that pollution generated by industrial activities in the British Isles and Central European countries seemed to have been affecting the air over Swedish territory. Again, France, Germany and Luxembourg have international problems because of air pollution generated in the intensely industrialized regions close to their borders. No sign of international action to prevent or control this is so far on the horizon.

The air pollution generated by motor vehicles will no doubt become of considerable importance to the European countries in the future. Only a few (France, England, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Czechoslovakia) manufacture motor vehicles for export; if any other European country should decide to limit pollution from this source, suitable international instruments will have to be evolved by the major car manufacturers, perhaps on the lines followed by the U.S. manufacturers in compliance with the 1967 Clean Air Act.

With few exceptions, most of the existing international agreements have not had rapid success in correcting or preventing pollution. Indeed, in many instances the machinery for control has not been set up. Where it does exist, activities have been centered largely upon collection and interpretation of data. As conscious efforts are made toward control, this information will, of course, be useful. An intelligence and monitoring network is a prerequisite to successful international management. Inherent in such practices is the parallel need for standardized measurement, for scientifically based criteria and for methods of assessing priorities in decision-making.

The special legal difficulties in dealing with water pollution were pointed out in 1964 by the International Law Association Committee. It reported that, of all the problems of international law with which it was concerned, it had experienced most difficulty with the subject of pollution. It recognized the complexities of this major problem of our era and the direct conflicts of interest involved. Rules of law "would not be completely pleasing to any interested state."

As yet, no case involving river pollution has been submitted to adjudication before the International Court of Justice or any other international tribunal. One of the few international court cases involving air pollution occurred more than a third of a century ago, when the United States entered a claim against Canada because of air pollution in the State of Washington from smelter stacks discharging, among other materials, sulphur dioxide. The settlement avoided the critical questions of international law, because Canada simply assumed responsibility for damages. No later cases involving either air or water are at hand; hence no substantial principles of international law have been established. Where the neighbors are on daily speaking terms and not inclined to use guns, the issues either have not reached a court or have been resolved, at least temporarily, by negotiation.

The case of the Colorado River illustrates the long history of an international agreement on control, albeit an uneasy one. Discussions between Mexico and the United States on the quantity of Colorado River water reaching Mexico cover over a half-century. After many proposals, counter-proposals, meetings, adjournments and resumptions of discussions, the 1944 Treaty emerged. It covered both the Colorado and the Rio Grande Rivers, largely as to the relative allocations of quantities of water between the two sovereign countries.

Before the Treaty was ratified, the quality of water to be delivered to Mexico was discussed in the U.S. Senate. Witnesses suggested, with obvious circumspection, that Mexico should take water delivered "regardless of quality." The words were not inserted in the Treaty, because such specificity might have prevented ratification by the Mexican Senate. The actual section dealing with the quality of the water to be delivered to Mexico, both subtle in language and equivocal in application, was bound to create problems and did.

The physical fact was, and is, that a substantial amount of water delivered to Mexico, under the Treaty, is return flow from the irrigation activities in the upper and lower basins in the Colorado River drainage area. As time went on, it was predictable that the salinity in the waters crossing the Mexican border would mount-and, of course, it created bitterness among the Mexicans. The difficulties were considerably enhanced when extremely alkaline lands went into use in the Wellton-Mohawk Project in Arizona. The salts leached from these operations aggravated the already deteriorated quality of the waters reaching Mexico.

This difficulty was temporarily solved in 1965, when the Presidents of the two countries announced that the United States, at its own expense, would construct a bypass drain to carry heavy saline waters around the Mexican diversion works. This temporary device is useful and it buys time, but the problem of salinity remains. As intensive uses grow in the United States, the situation will return to plague U.S.-Mexican relationships.

This oversimplification of the Colorado River dispute (and it has major repercussions within the United States itself) is intended to illustrate the complexities and interrelationships of land use, water allocation and quality degradation. These are and will be paralleled in many parts of the world. For example, throughout Latin America, 22 international river agreements have been consummated. They cover less than 15 percent of the 68 international river basins in that continent. Even those in effect are limited in functions and uses covered. More important, in virtually all such agreements, the organizations required to implement control are generally nonexistent or inadequate.

The agreements between India and Pakistan, on the uses of the Indus River and on the diversion of flood waters of the Ganges River into the Hooghly River, are recent demonstrations that there is hope of removing at least some of many antagonisms originating in such problems. The diversion of water into the Hooghly will reduce the incursions of salt water from the sea moving upstream to the major intakes of fresh water for the Calcutta region.

Partial successes in international control of water, air and land pollution have been registered over the last century. If the voice of experience is clear, however, it is that such efforts do not offer the "instant" correctives or preventatives so fondly anticipated by many of us. The road to international agreements, in these as in other activities, is rarely characterized by either logic, simplicity or permanence.


The surge in scientific research and development, and the technological applications resulting therefrom, are among the major characteristics of the period of World War II and the subsequent decades. These advances were bound to intensify problems of environmental pollution.

The creation of the atom bomb and its subsequent periodic testing in the air are a most significant reminder of the continuity of the world's atmosphere. The actions of the United States, the U.S.S.R., Britain, France and Communist China disclosed that the resulting fallout of radioactive materials came remarkably promptly and was geographically very wide. As a result surveillance and monitoring systems were established by the major powers on a worldwide basis. They surpass in efficiency any systems for the detection of other environmental contaminants. In the case of radiation, the obvious reasons for this were the potentially lethal biological effects and the necessity for sophisticated warning devices for national defense.

Aside from considerations of the socio-psychological effects of such fallout, the biological impacts upon man, other animal and plant life are generally considered, so far, to have been within the limits of acceptable risk. Some scientists, however, do not share this comforting view. The importance of fallout is listed here, primarily, to take cognizance of the strenuous efforts of the United States and the U.S.S.R. to universalize worldwide control of the proliferation of nuclear tests in the atmosphere. This hope of international agreement, including all countries, is still far from fulfillment, although the danger is clear; sophisticated means of global measurement are available and the peaceful uses of atomic energy may be evaluated and applied under effective controls.

In this connection, the disposal of radioactive wastes at sea illustrates the necessity for nations to consult with each other when such wastes move beyond national boundaries. The sensitivity of sovereign states on matters like this is increased by allegations that visiting nuclear-powered surface ships and submarines pollute harbors and domestic sea-lanes.

Oil spills provide another striking reminder of the "oneness" of oceans. In this instance, the problem is not new. The United States has signed a number of international conventions for the multilateral regulation of maritime matters, including the prevention of pollution of the seas. The 1954 International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Seas by Oil was amended by the contracting governments in April 1962. Some of these changes were incorporated earlier by the U.S. Congress in the amended Oil Pollution Act of 1961. All of these attempts have been directed toward limiting oily discharges by defining prohibited zones, recording oil discharges and losses, promoting the installation of oil-receiving facilities in ports and providing procedures for the apprehension and prosecution of violators.

Although the conventions have undoubtedly been helpful, they stand in need of considerable improvement. This is true likewise of the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 between the United States and Great Britain, and of a whole series of bilateral and unilateral acts of the last forty to fifty years. The recent wreck of the Torrey Canyon on the coast of England and the breakup of the Ocean Eagle at the mouth of San Juan Harbor, Puerto Rico, emphasized again the evil effects of such disasters at sea, including the destruction of bathing beaches and biological life. The wrecks involved most complicated legal consequences; and prohibitory legislation alone proved to be an astonishingly weak reed upon which to lean for either the prevention of such disasters or subsequent cleanup. In the Torrey Canyon case, at least, the materials used for cleanup did more damage than the oil. The successes in the case of the Ocean Eagle were somewhat better, but still left much to be desired. The recent developments of an effective oil- slick dispersant may help matters in the future, but the two cases illustrate the incapacity of nations to cope, both legally and technologically, with "oil out of control."

To the credit of the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and others, a meeting was called in London in May 1967, two months after the Torrey Canyon disaster. It was held at the headquarters of the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization (IMCO), the creation of the 1954 and 1962 Oil Pollution Conferences. In discussing "how to avoid the hazards presented by the carriage of oil or other noxious or hazardous cargoes," the London conference drew up a long list of preventive measures, all of which, in varying degree, will have to be implemented. This is particularly the case since the advent of ships that can carry tonnages of oil unheard of even five years ago, the transfer of cargoes from ship to ship offshore and the re-transfer of these cargoes to onshore processing and distribution centers.

Among the preventive measures now under discussion are the designation of sea-lanes and prohibited areas, the addition of navigational aids, shore guidance for ships near to land, speed restrictions, use of automatic pilots, review of construction and design, and the organization of intensive watches-all by international comity. In order to minimize damage when accidents do occur, research and rapid exchange of findings, on both national and international levels, will be required. The recent incidents disclose a great ignorance of how to manage spills by mechanical, chemical or physical means. The development of methods of recovering oil from bilge water before it is discharged into the sea should go far toward reducing one common source of pollution by tankers which are, whether intentionally or unintentionally, violating the law. Progress with the management of oil spills will undoubtedly effect improvements in the handling of other noxious and hazardous materials.

The legal questions arising from accidents at sea are even more perplexing. They can only be noted here, since they are beyond the purview of this paper. Serious questions have already arisen as to (a) the legal right of affected nations to participate in official inquiries; (b) the legal ability of a state threatened by a casualty in international waters to take measures to protect its coastline; (c) the nature and extent of liability; (d) access of foreign salvage equipment to territorial waters; and (e) the powers of coastal states to pursue surveillance and control procedures. In response to the directive of the President following closely on the heels of the Torrey Canyon disaster, Federal agencies are working hard to delineate many of these issues and to develop machinery to cope with them.


One would be rash indeed to pretend to define explicitly the position of the United States with respect to international pollution problems. What may be said confidently, however, is that the record of the last half- century indicates that the United States, like every other country (or person, for that matter), faces up to such problems only as a consequence of actual conflict or crisis. Rarely do international agreements anticipate the need. In recent years, the United States has moved more steadily and more rapidly to establish-or to participate in establishing-basic measurements for future conventions. We have given wholehearted coöperation, on a global scale, to the collection of data and other collaborative projects of the International Hydrologic Decade, the International Biological Decade, the proposed International Decade of Ocean Exploration and similar worldwide operations.

Bilateral issues seem to dwindle into insignificance when a country is confronted with the multiplicity of impending decisions involving control of the atmosphere and development of the resources of the oceans. Impatient as one may be to have clear policies enunciated, we must first accumulate basic scientific knowledge. It is a hard road and unattractive to the public and to budget makers, both of whom want quick results. Unfortunately, detailed working knowledge of the atmosphere and the seas is not yet profound. These elements must be understood before they can be managed, and certainly before control of them can be intelligently allocated among the family of nations.

In spite of the foregoing strictures, a permanent battle over ownership and control has already begun. International, national and local resolutions, claims and counterclaims abound. The United States, like many other countries, is treading lightly in this mine-studded field, before accepting cloudy long-range commitments. It cannot be overemphasized, however, that, regardless of who ultimately owns what part of the oceans, the pollution problem will still remain to be solved. The spread of pollution transcends national ownership. Agreements on control will have to come-and it is not too early to develop and begin to implement them. 1 These include the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine, the International Commission for the Protection of the Waters of Lake Constance and, outside Europe, the International Joint Commission (concerning the waters forming the boundary between the United States and Canada) and the International Boundary and Water Commission (which performs the same functions in respect to the boundary between the United States and Mexico). The Conference of Heads of Water Management Services of the Member Countries of the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (which includes representatives from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, Rumania and the U.S.S.R.) has approved common criteria and standards of purity for surface waters, as well as principles of water classification. 2 Examples are those between Spain and France, Hungary and Jugoslavia, France and Switzerland (largely to control and prevent pollution in the Rhone, the Arve, Lake Geneva and tributary waters); Canada and the United States (boundary waters); Belgium and Germany; Belgium and the Netherlands; between Belgium, France and Luxembourg; France and Germany; Poland and the U.S.S.R.; Poland and East Germany; Poland and Jugoslavia; and the many agreements between the Balkan countries.

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