[OUTLOOK]Helping keep things balanced

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[OUTLOOK]Helping keep things balanced

Sang-seng, meaning mutual life in direct translation, is a difficult concept to grasp. In the words of a friend who studies oriental philosophy, it is a term we can barely understand after five years of training. Let’s take an example of sang-seng, or coexistence.
A tree helps fire. But the tree may think it unfair because fire cannot help the tree directly. But the natural enemy of a tree is metal because a tool like an axe made of metal hurts the tree. But the tree’s helping fire finally helps the tree itself because burning fire can melt metal. The way to sang-seng can be found in these complicated, entangled relations of cause and effect.
Contrary to sang-seng, the vicious circle of unfortunate relations sometimes needs to be cut. Every summer, typhoons and the rainy season never fail to come, but there is always talk of human-made disasters. I hope the same thing will not happen this year.
Suspected cases of itai-itai disease recently occurred in an abandoned mining area in South Gyeongsang province. Gold mine wastes include not only heavy metals but also deadly poisonous materials like cadmium and cyanide. If these materials pollute water or soil, including rivers, underground water and makeshift waterworks, and enter the human body, they could weaken bone or transform its structure.
In the early 1990s near Gahak mine in Gyeonggi province, cadmium was detected in the soil, rice produced in this area, and residents’ blood. Now, suspected cases are occurring in the unworked mining area in South Gyeongsang province.
In January 2000, heavy precipitation and melting snow broke a tailings dam near Baia Mare in Romania. A spill of tailings waste was released into the nearby Lapos River and the seriously polluted river water again traveled through the Somes River and the Tisza River, finally polluting the Danube. About 100,000 cubic meters of waste from the tailings breach polluted the river and the polluted Danube flowed as far as 1,950 kilometers through Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria to the Black Sea.
As a result, numerous flora and fauna that inhabited the Danube lost their reproductive function. This accident is recorded as the worst environmental disaster in Europe since Chernobyl.
Although the spill of toxic waste destroyed the environment, fortunately no direct damage to people has been reported yet. The reason is that an alarm system was established in the Danube river basin.
The release of deadly toxic materials afflicts damage too huge to cope with in a short time after receiving a report from residents or environmental groups.
We should also promptly establish the national automatic water quality monitoring system the government currently promotes. We should install an advanced system, train experts, and invest in technology that could minimize the damage.
Also, waste storage places should be managed according to strict regulations, and the size and strength of the storage dam should be precisely designed and operated so that waste will not spill over. In Europe, to protect the environment after mining, all waste should be perfectly treated, and it usually takes seven years to get permission to build waste treatment facilities.
It takes so long to get permission because the facilities should sufficiently reflect the current cutting-edge technology and their safety should be proved and confirmed.
To avoid human-made disasters as well as natural ones and lead a safe life, we need a systematic disaster prevention system based on advanced technology like the alarm system in the basin.
Now is the time to prepare to break the vicious circle of tremendous disasters that are repeated every year.

* The writer is a professor of chemical engineering at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Moon Il
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