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Letters to the editor

The Editor welcomes letters at 151 Rosebery Avenue, London EC1R 4QX

fax: (0171) 505 6667 e-mail:

and reserves the right to condense.

Bacterial action

I was amazed to see the article Steel eating bugs spread worldwide in NCE 5 March issue. While there are always new things to understand about microbial consortia at the interface between the natural and engineered environments, there is a lot which already well understood. This article is very misleading in suggesting that this is a new phenomena and that these ubiquitous bacteria are being spread around the world on ships. Professor Walsh is right when he says that such occurrences are likely to be very common it may well be that engineers have not known what to look for in the past.

What is wrong with the civil engineering industry? Why is there this amazing lack of awareness and understanding about biofilms, biofouling and biocorrosion?

About 10 years ago NCE had a similar article expressing great surprise at the discovery of bacterial involvement in corrosion of a steel tunnel lining in London. My letter to NCE raised interest which eventually culminated in the holding of an international conference Microbiology in civil engineering at Cranfield in September 1990. Its purpose was to increase awareness among civil engineers of the significance and extent of microbial activity in many civil engineered environments and to encourage greater communication between microbiologists and civil engineers. It seemed have some success at the time.

The keynote papers in the conference proceedings, by experts such as Roy Cullimore (last year he was down taking samples from the hull of the Titanic for iron biofouling/ biocorrosion studies), Ken Tiller (biocorrosion) and Ken Seal (biodeterioration), would be well worth reading as a starting point. There are many other good texts on biofilms, biofouling and biocorrosion, reflecting the extent of existing knowledge and experience in UK, Europe and US.

Dr Peter Howsam, senior lecturer in groundwater engineering and law, Water Management Group, Cranfield University, at Silsoe, Bedford, MK45 4DT.

Concrete sighting

Despite the temptation to welcome the disapperance of George Street in favour of more serious articles about concrete (NCE 26 February), I have a public duty to report firm sightings of a shadowy figure resembling Street swinging across the girders at the BRE Cardington Large Buildings Test Facility.

At the opening of the European Concrete Building project on Wednesday, there were clear booming calls from him of the the Bells, the Bells perhaps a throwback to his boozy past. Bacon sandwiches have been reported missing from the project canteen. Colleagues, friends and victims who are interested in looking out for him can tune into the concrete project live camera Internet website at construct/ecbp/index.html and at the same time admire Byrne Brothers elegant frame structure.

Martin Clarke, director of marketing, British Cement Association, Century House, Telford Avenue, Crowthorne

Berkshire RG45 6YS.

Clearing the air

I was disappointed to read your very downbeat piece about London City Airport in an otherwise excellent series of articles about the London Docklands Development Corporation.

The airport has been developed entirely with private sector investment, and at no time have we had any public sector investment. The initial trading losses were taken by Mowlem (the original developer) and by 1998 well over 100M had been invested, creating 1,200 full time jobs.

No mention was made of our role in regeneration. Many of the companies moving to Docklands are encouraged by the good quality quick access to Europe via London City Airport.

Our desire to develop further is driven by the needs of those businesses in and planning to come to the area. We have plenty of physical capacity which we would like to see utilised efficiently.

We have developed an excellent relationship with local communities. Some 70% of employees here live within 8km of the airport. So it is not surprising that the London Borough of Newham is supporting our application to permit more flights.

London City Airport handles flights to 20 European destinations. This year we shall handle around 1.5M passengers a real success story.

Polly Larner, press and PR officer, London City Airport, The Royal Docks, London E16 2PX.

Unsustainable view

Reading William Ross piece (NCE 26 February) one is almost at a loss to imagine how civils projects ever got built in bygone years when construction personnel did not have cars. Transport practitioners will recognise his argument as a classic example of one which espouses sustainable transport as long as restraints impact only on other people. Almost all businesses can make compelling cases for why they, or their personnel, should incur no additional motoring costs and, when consulted, most do.

In recent years, such preoccupation with defending car-dependent interests has served to debilitate decision making on strategic policies vital to the long term well being of the wider community and environment. The imperative for sustainable development is one of the few inimitable truths for which there is universal consensus. Sustainability means not using non-renewable resources faster than they can be replaced and not releasing emissions faster than sensitive natural systems can reprocess them. Current transport demands fail the tests on both these counts.

Brian Hanson (M), Architects & Engineers for Social Responsibility, Brian_george_

Gateway gain

I was pleased to see that my enthusiasm for our Thames Gateway Bridge design came across in your report (NCE 19 February). It is unfortunate that you say I am pessimistic about it ever getting built. What I said was that there is no finance for it yet. There is a clear need for more river crossings to serve the Thames Gateway area and I am optimistic it will happen.

Angus Low, director, Ove Arup & Partners, 13 Fitzroy Street, London W1P 6BQ.

Silt success

The article on sewer cleaning in Lahore (NCE 5 March) was a little misplaced in its claim to be the first time this type of project has been carried out anywhere.

Working for Severn Trent International, during 1989-90, with Allison Descaling, I undertook a review of the (very similar) problems in Madras, India (population four million plus). We analysed the systems and found major shortcomings in the design and operation. Working closely with Madras Metropolitan Water & Sewerage Board we produced two key reports, dealing with the removal of the silt/grit from the sewers and the design of the pumping stations, which were both implemented.

In 1992 Allison Descaling helped set up and train a local contractor which has been so successful that the city has all but run out of sewer cleaning work.

Peter Styles (M), 6 Warren Drive, Solihull B93 8JY.

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