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Mining Review 2/5: A Dim View (1949)


Main image of Mining Review 2/5: A Dim View (1949)
Mining Review 2nd Year No. 5 - A Dim View
January 1949
35mm, black and white, 2 mins
DirectorMichael Orrom
Production CompanyData Film Productions
ProducerDonald Alexander
CameraCharles Smith

The economic and environmental cost of industrial and domestic pollution.

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An early example of environmentally-conscious industrial filmmaking, this Mining Review item spells out the practical cost of indiscriminate pollution: two and a half million tons of smoke, equal to the waste of ten million tons of coal.

But, as the film takes care to underline, it's not just the responsibility of heavy industry. At this time, virtually the entire British population used open coal fires to heat their homes, and domestic fuel made a major contribution to the overall problem.

However, the arguments that the film puts forward against pollution are almost entirely economic. Although some environmental damage is acknowledged, emphasis is firmly placed on wastage of coal at a time of national shortages. The human cost of pollution, which was estimated at around 24,000 people dying prematurely per year, was dismissed as an acceptable price to pay for progress, on the rare occasions that the subject was raised at all.

But on December 4, 1952, almost exactly four years after this film was made, London suffered its worst-ever case of air pollution. During the so-called 'Great Smog', which lasted for five days, 4,000 people died as a direct result, with a further 8,000 succumbing in the following months. This colossal death toll over such a brief time span underlined the true cost of these policies - which had been exacerbated by a revenue-maximising plan that involved clean coal being exported abroad and 'dirty' (i.e. heavily sulphur-laden) coal kept for domestic use.

The Government set up a Committee of Inquiry, which recommended a Clean Air Act. This became law in 1956, and at the time consisted of the most stringent anti-pollution laws passed anywhere in the world. Over the next few years, the population switched to smokeless fuels and central heating, and by the following decade large-scale smog of the kind seen in London (where visibility dropped to less than half a metre) had all but vanished.

Michael Brooke

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
Complete item (1:59)
Complete newsreel (9:28)
Mining Review 1/5: Smoke Elimination (1948)
Mining Review 2/5: A Pit Is Reborn - Gedling (1949)
Mining Review 2/5: Push Button Pay (1949)
Mining Review 2/5: Talent Scout (1949)
Mining Review: 2nd Year (1948-49)