Citation: Sharon Beder, Controversy and Closure: Sydney's Beaches in Crisis, Social Studies of Science, vol. 21, May 1991, pp223-56.

This is a final version submitted for publication. Minor editorial changes may have subsequently been made.

Sharon Beder's Other Publications


On Good Friday 1989, at the end of the Australian summer, almost a quarter of a million people gathered on a drizzly afternoon at Bondi Beach for the 'Turn Back the Tide' concert organised to protest against the sewage pollution of Sydney beaches. Their presence marked a level of community concern that engineers and politicians had been totally unprepared for. Just a few months before, as the summer had begun, the Sydney Water Board's latest technological scheme - deepwater outfalls at Sydney's three main sewage discharge points - had seemed to be well accepted as the solution to Sydney's sewage pollution problems.

Until 1990 most of Sydney's sewage was discharged at the shoreline at three headlands (North Head, Bondi and Malabar - see map 1) near popular metropolitan beaches. The sewage is 42% industrial waste by volume. This waste includes a range of heavy metals that come from metal fabrication and processing industries, chemical companies and a range of other miscellaneous businesses. The industrial waste is generally given only rudimentary treatment before being discharged legally into the sewers. When the sewage containing the industrial waste reaches the coastal sewage treatment plants 10-15% of solids are removed before the sewage is discharged into the ocean.

Because of continual complaints about the pollution of the beaches the Water Board is extending the outfalls into deeper water but not upgrading the treatment. At the time of the concert, construction was well under way. A major technological controversy had erupted after everything seemed to be stabilized; after closure had been achieved. People were suddenly demanding that the sewage be given secondary treatment before discharge because they didn't believe the deepwater outfalls would rid the beaches of sewage pollution, as had been promised.

The sewerage controversy in Sydney is typical of those occurring in many other countries as environmental awareness is raised and problems associated with conventional engineering practice become more evident. The previous year medical and other waste washing up on New York beaches had caused the closure of beaches and widespread media coverage. The British government was being forced to upgrade the standards of its beaches to comply with European standards after evading those requirements for some years. In Wellington, New Zealand, a City Council elected on promises to install better sewage treatment was surrounded by controversy because of its failure to act on those promises immediately.

The practice of sewerage engineering does not differ very much throughout the Western world and is based on similar innovations and techniques. In Australia and New Zealand, practice has in the past been derivative of British engineering although today Australians look more towards the United States for consultant advice and techniques. Sewerage engineers keep abreast of trends in treatment abroad and Australian engineers frequently take overseas trips to keep up to date with what their overseas colleagues are doing. For these reasons, although my case study is centred in Sydney, Australia, it can be used to show something of the nature of engineering practice in general, particularly engineering practice that is associated with technological controversies.

Sewerage controversies do not fit neatly into the literature on scientific controversies because they are not restricted to members of a professional community. They tend to be public controversies where the source of disagreement is not between groups of scientists but rather between the scientists involved and groups of people from the wider society. For this reason the differences in credibility and perceived expertise on each side of the debate, as well as the different sources of power, are crucially important in such disputes. These are the very dimensions that are often neglected or remain understated in the social constructivist accounts of scientific controversies.

Sewerage controversies tend not to fit with the literature on technological controversies either because, rather than involving community opposition to a technological project as most technological controversies studied do,[1] they usually involve a community push for more technology. The perception that technological controversies indicate some sort of loss of faith in science and technology is therefore not borne out in these cases. The debate is over the level and extent of facilities that are required and whether they can be afforded. And whilst many debates of this type are openly political, such as whether more schools/roads/hospitals should be provided, the debate over how much sewage treatment should be provided has tended to be dominated by 'experts' and the politics incorporated into the technical arguments. In this, sewerage controversies are like other technological controversies.

The Social Construction of Technology (SCOT) literature is relevant in this case because of its insistence on not separating the social or political from the technical.[2] Much work in that field has concentrated on the historical development of technological artifacts and systems. Perhaps because of this, this literature is weak on the analysis of closure of technological dispute, competition and controversy. When seen with hindsight past disputes seem well and truly settled, ongoing conflict is less visible in retrospect and the dynamic nature of closure is easily missed. Sewerage controversies, however, illustrate the dynamic and political nature of closure because they are often not permanently closed and seldom closed by consensus.

Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker explicitly discuss closure in their work. They describe the competition between competing technological innovations in terms of the various social groups who attribute different meanings and problems to each technological product or artifact (interpretive flexibility).[3] Pinch and Bijker have argued that the stabilization of an artifact or closure of debate happens when the relevant social groups see the problem as being solved, and that this can occur through rhetorical closure or redefinition of the problem. Rhetorical closure may be achieved through claims in advertising or propaganda which are aimed at changing or shaping the meaning that various social groups attach to an artifact and thereby enrolling their support. Closure by redefinition can be procured by redefining the problem for which the artifact is then seen to be a solution.

But does stabilization or closure require all the relevant social groups to see the problem as solved or only those who have the decision-making power? And what are the mechanisms by which a particular alternative or artifact succeeds? Why are some groups able to redefine the problem or be more effective in their rhetoric than others? It is clearly not enough just to study the various meanings attributed to an artifact and the enrolment of social groups into a particular set of meanings. Emphasis on interpretive flexibility and negotiation can all too often lead to a neglect of the question of power, especially power in its material forms which enables some groups to control negotiation and sometimes arbitrarily limit interpretive flexibility.

The issue of closure has also been discussed in detail by those participating in the 'closure project'.[4] Although these scholars define the term closure to mean the conclusion, ending, or resolution of a controversy[5] they recognise explicitly that some forms of closure are not permanent and controversies can reopen or new controversies arise. They also recognise that the enrolment of other disputing parties may not be necessary for closure.

Tristram Engelhardt and Arthur Caplan nominate five categories of closure in scientific controversies by amalgamating those put forward by Tom Beauchamp and Ernan McMullin. One is 'closure through loss of interest' which corresponds to Beauchamp's 'natural death closure' and McMullin's 'abandonment'.[6] This type of closure implies that a controversy ends because participants lose interest. No resolution or concensus has been reached but the issue has lost its importance or is no longer the focus of interest or controversy.[7]

Another category of closure is 'closure through force'. The controversy is ended although there is no rational basis for resolution. This may occur when an external authority declares a decision, or by the use of state power, or even the loss of funding.[8] Everett Mendelsohn also pointed out that closure is sometimes achieved when those who are weaker in political strength are driven from the scene and, although they still maintain their views, they are unable to continue the open confrontation.[9]

A third category is 'closure through consensus'. It is in this category that Pinch and Bijker's concept of closure would best fit. Beauchamp observes of consensus closure,

Here it does not matter whether a correct or fair position has been reached. It does not matter whether, as a matter of justification and method, some point of view is well defended. Nor need principals believe that a permanent solution has been found, or even a definitive one. It only matters that there is consensus agreement that the force of one position has overwhelmed others. . . the weight of evidence might play no role at all in bringing about the consensus.[10]

The next category outlined by Engelhardt and Caplan, 'closure through negotiation,' often involves the use of procedures agreed to by disputing parties for reaching a conclusion which may be a compromise for them. Participants may not agree that the negotiated closure is the best or most appropriate but they are willing to accept it in order to end the debate.

'Closure through sound argument', or 'resolution' as McMullin prefers to call it is the final category and is supposed to come about when participants freely concur that a particularly solution is most appropriate because they agree on the 'facts'. This agreement has what McMullin refers to as an 'epistemic' basis rather than a social or political basis. It is perhaps the way that those participating in the `Closure Project' would like to see controversies resolved[11] but technological controversies are seldom if ever closed in this way.

There are several problems with utilising this categorisation of closure presented by Englehardt et. al. to analyse a controversy. Firstly, several different means of closure might be attempted. More importantly, there may be a pretence at one type of closure although another type is really being used. For example, the State may use closure by force but try to portray a closure by sound argument. As Randall Albury has pointed out, 'representative systems, unlike overtly authoritarian systems, usually require a government to justify major policy decisions on the basis of some purportedly objective knowledge.'[12] The use of rhetoric may signify an attempt at rhetorical closure but it may also indicate an attempt to cover a closure by force. Closure through loss of interest may occur because of the feeling of powerlessness felt by participants in the face of an attempted closure by force.

It is therefore essential in any analysis of how a controversy was resolved to examine carefully those who have power and the way in which they use it. Of course, different analyses of the same conflicts may yeild different accounts of what the real mechanisms and motivations and motivations. No definitive account is possible. Gilbert and Mulkay criticise those who attempt to come up with such definitive accounts because "they imply unjustifiably that the analyst can reconcile his (sic) version of events with all the multiple and divergent versions generated by the actors themselves."[13]

However, in technological controversies the interests of the organisations involved are more easily discernable than those of the individual scientists that Gilber and Mulkay refer to and as Gary Bowden has argued "enacted interests (that is, organisational goals) are created and recognised by and structure the behaviour of members of the organization."[14] Employees of organisations are likely to act on behalf ot their employers' interests because of the nature of the employer-employee relationship, particularly for engineers.

Nevertheless the analyst is still left with the task of interpreting the evidence and events and deciding to what extent various interests influenced the course of the controversy and the achievement or non-achievement of closure. Other analysts, who have differing life experiences, values and interests, may come up with different conclusions and all one can do in the end is to lay down one's case for others to evaluate for themselves.

A second major problem with the typologies of closure presented by Engelhadt et al is that they tend to mask the way that technological and scientific controversies develop. Closure has to be attained at various levels before a technological controversy is ended. In Sydney there were three obvious levels at which closure occurred. Firstly, at the organisational level, the engineers employed directly and indirectly by Sydney's Water Board had to come to some agreement about what solution they would put forward. Although Water Board engineers have reported that there was some early disagreement within their ranks over whether extended ocean outfalls were the best solution, by the time that this solution was presented to the public, there was no sign of any internal disagreement and the engineers acted in the public sphere as a united group with a single purpose.

Having attained that internal closure at the organisational level, the engineers set out to convince the Board members nominally in charge of the Water Board, the State Pollution Control Commission (SPCC) and the governing politicians that extending the existing ocean outfalls into deeper water would provide an adequate and politically acceptable solution to beach pollution problems. This was a second level of closure at the decision-makers level, amongst those in power. The alliance of politicians, bureaucrats and engineers then set out to attain closure in the wider community, the community level of closure. It is on the latter two levels of closure that this paper will concentrate.

This paper will outline five types of closure that were attempted in the Sydney sewerage controversy. The first utilises Pinch and Bijker's conception of `closure by redefinition.' In this case the government attempted to redefine sewage pollution as an aesthetic problem instead of a health problem. The second fits with Engelhardt and Caplan' `closure by negotiation' in that various government instrumentalities negotiated water quality standards. This basically occurred at the decision-makers level. In the third, what might at first glance seem to be `closure by sound argument' is shown to be more complicated than this. The Water Board sought to enrol others through a scientific studies and reports that the exended outfalls were the best solution to sewage pollution. The paper also outlines `closure by rhetoric' and `closure through loss of interest' before going on to examine the usefulness of `closure' as a framework for understanding controversies.


For many years now sewage authorities have attempted to redefine coastal sewage pollution as an aesthetic problem rather than as a public health problem. This was particularly tried with reference to the Sydney debate over deepwater outfalls. A major advantage of the deepwater outfall is that it can provide a solution to the aesthetic problems of sewage pollution: the sewage field will not be visible to the eye when it is submerged beneath the surface of the ocean and the design of the deepwater outfall is an attempt to maximise the time during which the sewage will be submerged.

By redefining sewage pollution as an aesthetic problem, then deepwater outfalls can be interpreted as a solution. However the issue of whether bathing in sewage polluted waters poses a health threat to swimmers is widely debated within the scientific community and such a redefinition requires the authorities to be rather selective in which scientific artifacts or studies they incorporate into their system.

Such studies are full of uncertainties and what Allan Mazur refers to as 'ambiguities' (requiring judgements about such things as what assumptions should be made and how far existing data can be extrapolated.[15]) If diseases can be transmitted via sewage polluted water, symptoms of such diseases might not occur till some time after exposure. Many diseases which could be transmitted in this way are neither fatal nor notifiable. Many of those diseases are transmitted in other ways.[16] The questions of which diseases or infections to study and when to attribute a disease to swimming in sewage polluted water becomes a matter of judgement and therefore can be subject to alternative interpretations.

A 1959 study undertaken in the U.K was still being referred to there as well as in Australia and New Zealand as the classic paper on the subject[17] in recent years despite the continuing debate amongst experts, new research and developments in the field of virology and the various papers reaching contrary conclusions being published since that date.[18] It was based on five years of investigation of 43 U.K beaches and concluded that there was only a 'negligible risk to health' of bathing in sewage polluted sea water even when beaches were 'aesthetically very unsatisfactory' and that a serious risk would only exist if the water was so fouled as to be revolting to the senses. It insisted that pathogenic bacteria which were isolated from sewage contaminated sea water was more important as an indicator of the disease in the population than as evidence of a health risk in the waters.[19]

B. Moore, who was in charge of the study, believed that bathing was 'an unnatural activity in man' and he ascribed the prevalence of upper respiratory infections in bathers to the mechanical effect of bacteria being forced up the nose and into the middle ear when diving or to close personal contact with fellow bathers. He dismissed without further investigation the idea that such infections arose from the ingestion or inhalation of pathogens from contaminated waters or sea spray. For this reason his working group did not concern itself with upper respiratory infections but confined their investigations to 'diseases the causal agents of which are known to be present in sewage' particularly paratyphoid or typhoid fever and poliomyelitis.[20] More minor diseases such as viral gastro-enteritis were ignored.

Moore's criteria for attributing paratyphoid or typhoid fever to bathing in sewage-polluted seawater were:

1. The patient must have bathed in seawater known to have been contaminated at the time with enteric organisms of the same type as caused the illness.

2. The case must not be otherwise explicable, for example, if there were other cases in the same neighbourhood.

3. The case was stronger if it was known that the patient swallowed a good deal of sea-water, for example, through being a poor swimmer or having fallen out of a boat into deep water.

4. The case was stronger if the bathing waters in question had been heavily polluted, or if it was known that the patient had had direct contact with unmacerated faecal matter while bathing on the day of presumed infection.

5. Credibility was lost if a single bathing episode, say 10 to 11 days before the onset of illness could not be pointed to.[21]

It is clear from his criteria that Moore took the position that sewage polluted water is innocent until proven guilty and his various assumptions reflect what he expected his conclusions would be. He was more likely to believe a case of illness was caused by bathing in sewage polluted water if the bather came in contact with faeces. He then concluded from his study that the negligible risk of contracting disease was probably from chance contact with intact aggregates of faecal matter from an infected person. Cases that occurred when the beaches weren't grossly polluted were unlikely to be attributed to bathing and not surprisingly he concluded that disease would not be contracted unless the bathing waters were grossly polluted.

The British reliance on this report enabled British authorities to avoid treatment altogether at many of their ocean outfalls for many years. European Common Market Directives from the 1970s could not be met by many British beaches and so they by-passed the requirement by designating only 27 beaches out of over 600 as bathing beaches. (Even major British seaside resorts, such as Blackpool, were not designated as bathing beaches.) This may be compared to France with 1,500 beaches designated and Italy with 3,000.[22]

Epidemiological studies carried out in the U.S. since the early 1950s made fewer judgements about whether a disease was caused by swimming or not and instead compared statistics of disease instance in swimmers at polluted beaches with a control group. They have found 'significant risks of bathing associated disease, particularly gastro-enteritis, in recreational waters even mildly contaminated with sewage.'[23] Apart from stomach illness, ear, eye, nose and throat infections, hepatitis and cystitis have all been linked with swimming in sewage polluted waters.[24]

Britain has maintained that since there is no epidemiological evidence of any significant health threat the government would not set standards. The British did, however, recognise that in other countries immersion or swimming times might be longer and the risks higher. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has also noted a 'paucity of valid epidemiological data' but in contrast to British authorities has not taken this to mean that there are no problems.[25]

In Australia, authorities have preferred to refer to British studies although bathing habits here are more akin to those in the United States. A 1979 State Pollution Control Commission (SPCC) report concluded that although studies had not been done in New South Wales, increased illness amongst swimmers had not been observed and experience confirmed overseas findings that there was a 'low probability of persons becoming infected' after bathing in sewage polluted waters. They therefore decided that public health could adequately be protected if aesthetic considerations were met.[26]

Between February and March 1989 a Water Board funded pilot study was carried out on the occurrence of sewage derived viruses and bacteria in beach and offshore waters off Bondi (the site of one of Sydney's main outfalls).[27] On five separate occasions samples were collected in the effluent and at various points between the outfall and the beach. The study found only poliovirus vaccine strains in the bathing area, all in samples taken on the same day.

The levels of faecal coliform[28] in the samples from the bathing waters were also very low. Government authorities use the concentrations of faecal coliform to measure how polluted bathing waters are and the absence of faecal coliform found in the samples in this case raises the essential question of whether the bathing area had actually been polluted at the time the samples were taken. (Sewage generally flows from the existing outfall in the direction the wind is blowing and so only flows into the beach some of the time.) In other words the study found few viruses and bacteria in bathing water that was very probably not polluted with sewage on the occasions on which sampling was done.

The pilot study was reported in the Medical Journal of Australia in December 1989. There was no mention made of which way the sewage field was going or whether sewage was present in the water. Nevertheless the discussion of the article stated:

there is no evidence to suggest that bathing in sewage-polluted waters carries a risk of contracting viral infections that is greater than that of land-based transmission, even though viruses can be detected easily in polluted marine water, sediments, sewage effluent and sludge.[29]

The statement that 'there is no evidence' has been identified by Mazur[30] as the most common rhetorical device used in the controversies he studied and it has been very often used by health authorities to argue against the widely held belief that swimming in sewage might cause health problems. This instance is typical in that it gives the impression that it is a conclusion arising from a study into health problems from swimming in polluted water. But assessing the risk of contracting viral infections from sewage-polluted waters was not an objective of the study and no attempt was made to ensure bathing waters tested for viruses and bacteria were polluted at the time. In fact, the authors went on to point out that the onshore drift of the sewage field would add to the microbiological load of bathing waters. Yet it was the statement beginning 'there is no evidence' statement that was highlighted by the Australian Medical Association (AMA) in a news release as the key finding of the study and a few media reporters followed the lead of the AMA in interpreting the study as an 'all clear' for Bondi beach and even for swimming in sewage-polluted waters.

This study and media coverage of it didn't have much impact on perceptions of Bondi beach and beaches throughout Sydney continue to be poorly patronised because people are suspicious of the surf. Beachgoers prefer to go by their intuition, anecdotal evidence and personal experience - much of which is reinforced by the media which has often reported stories of people who claim to have become sick or infected after surfing or swimming at polluted beaches.

The preceding section shows that government funded experts have attempted to redefine the sewage pollution problem as an aesthetic rather than as a health problem through the selective use of overseas studies and the forced interpretation of their own studies. They have been unsuccessful in this endeavour.


Whilst efforts at redefining the problem have been largely unsuccessful with the public, definitions of what is satisfactory in terms of the performance of engineering projects are determined in NSW by government regulatory agencies without consultation with the public. The public generally trust their regulatory agencies to set appropriate scientific standards. Most people will not believe that swimming in sewage polluted water is safe because it runs counter to the modern day association of excrement with disease but it is a different matter to believe that so long as the regulated standards are met the water is not significantly polluted.

As I shall argue below, and as others have argued[31] regulated standards are not objective measures of safety but rather socially constructed measures of compromise. Gillespie et al have shown how environmental/public health standards can vary from country to country because of differences in interpretation where there are scientific uncertainties and differences in scientific standards, in scientific and social commitments of the decision-makers and their advisors, the bureaucratic polictics of the regulatory agencies and various other contextual factors.[32]

The political bases for regulatory standards are more obvious in countries where there is open debate about standards. The situation in the United States is described by Shiela Jasonoff:

the adversarial processes of rule-making employed in the United States presume that `truth' emerges from an open and ritualized clash of conflicting opinions rather than from the delicate and informal negotiations that characterize fact-finding in science. US administrative proceedings tend to `deconstruct' the views held by scientific experts.[33]

This is not the case in NSW where there is an `elite' consensus approach to regulation similar to that taken in Britain and Western Europe. The consensus, according to Timothy O'Riordab, in such an approach is confined to an elite group of civil servants, experts and influential politicians and industrialists.[34] It involves flexibility in interpreting rules, self-regulation and above all confidentiality. Agreement about what standards should be imposed is reached by negotiation among key players without any open debate or `deconstruction' of the science behind those standards.

NSW bathing water standards[35] have been set in this way. In 1974 they were copied from the US standards which regulated the concentrations of faecal coliform allowed in bathing waters. Faecal coliform had been used for decades in the US as an indicator of sewage pollution. They are organisms that naturally occur in the human gut and do not cause disease themselves.

By the late 1970s many authorities world-wide were admitting that faecal coliform were not a good indicator of sewage pollution. A NSW report by the SPCC concluded that faecal coliforms were inadequate as an indicator of pathogens because their presence only indicated recent contamination, their absence would not mean an absence of pathogens and finally, decreases in faecal coliform levels didn't necessarily correspond to similar decreases in levels of pathogens, particularly viruses.[36]

The SPCC noted that the earliest water quality standards for bacteria were 'based mostly on engineering feasibility rather than epidemiological and scientific data.'[37] (These were accepted world-wide.) In other words standards were set that could be met by conventional engineering solutions rather than on the basis of what was safe for swimmers. Official definitions of what bathing conditions were satisfactory were clearly dependent on the technology being put in place to achieve those conditions.

The NSW standards were in fact set at the request of the Water Board, which had consultants at work designing deepwater outfalls. The Board wanted to know what standards it would have to meet and, presummably, it was understood by the SPCC, which favoured the deepwater outfall concept, that it would have been unreasonable to set standards that could not have been met by those deepwater outfalls without further upgrading of treatment.

As evidence of this approach, the SPCC only defined Sydney's beaches as bathing waters during summer months. During the winter months the standards were relaxed to non-bathing standards despite the continued use of the beaches by surfers and others during the very mild Sydney winter. This suited the Water Board since they expected that the deepwater outfalls would not work as well in winter and summer standards would not be met during the cooler months.[38]

The SPCC standards for bathing waters were supposed to reflect a requirement of the NSW Clean Waters Act (1970) that wastes should not be discharged into ocean waters if they will adversely affect beaches.[39] The use of faecal-coliform standards are an interpretation of the legislation that reveals the discretion available to the SPCC as a regulatory authority in setting standards. It is not only the use of faecal-coliform that indicates that discretion or the numerical concentrations set, but also the sampling regime and statistical methods to be employed, which are somewhat arbitrary. A comparison between the SPCC and the NSW Department of Health shows the different way that faecal coliform standards can be used and the very different impression that can result.

Both authorities use a geometric mean but in different ways. A geometric mean tends to be much lower than an average but is used because it is not 'distorted' by high readings (see figure 1).

Figure 1: Geometric Mean

The Health Department takes three samples from each beach on each day they do their sampling. In case one of the samples contains an unrepresentative clump of sewage they use a geometric mean to give a more representative picture of the beach on that day. The Water Board, under instructions from the SPCC, takes only one sample from each beach every six days. However, they use a geometric mean of the five samples taken each month. They argue this gives them a representative picture of that beach for the month. Nevertheless this use of statistics means that the beach could have high levels of faecal coliform 30-50% of the time whilst the geometric mean for the month shows that the beach meets the standards. The SPCC/Water Board standard is modelled on the US bathing water standard and they see no reason to change it. The Health Department's standard has been developed for its own use presumably because it required a standard for individual occasions and, as far as I know, it has never sought to have its standards accepted by other authorities. The Health Department standard gives very different results from the Water Board standard as shown in figure 2.

The setting of standards has turned out to be a fairly arbitrary process that has been manipulated to hide large variations in water quality from public view. It has also involved negotiation and compromise with those being regulated. The Water Board failed to enrol the public's support in their deepwater outfall scheme by redefining the sewage problem as merely an aesthetic problem. But whilst most people had confidence in the ability of the regulatory agencies to set standards that would protect public health and the environment it was only necessary to enrol the support of officers of the regulatory agencies to surreptitiously redefine the problem into one of reducing faecal coliform levels at the beaches. A wider enrolment was seen to be unnecessary in terms of officially defining what beach conditions were satisfactory and it was a process from which the public was excluded. A closure by negotiation had occurred with regard to standards at that decision-makers level. The negotiation has also caused a redefinition of the problem from a health problem to a problem of levels of faecal coliform.


Part of the process of enrolling the support of key decision-makers and the officers of the regulatory agency was the hiring of the consultants Caldwell Connell to prepare a knowledge base predicting that the proposed deepwater outfalls would relieve sewage problems in Sydney. The U.S. consultants Brown and Caldwell had recommended the construction of deepwater outfalls in the 1960s.[40] In 1971 the Water Board hired the firm Caldwell Connell (an amalgamation of Brown and Caldwell with an Australian firm) to undertake a five year 'feasibility' study of the deepwater outfalls proposal.

The negotiation and final setting of standards in 1974 had a direct effect both on the investigations that Caldwell Connell undertook and on the way the feasibility study was presented in 1976. For example, Caldwell Connell's investigation of the health impact of the deepwater outfalls centred around the fate of faecal coliform in ocean water even though Caldwell Connell themselves said that there was very little evidence that related 'faecal coliform concentration to the incidence of water borne disease.'[41]

Their use of faecal coliform in the feasibility study demonstrated the various purposes of their study. The study aimed to find out whether it was feasible to construct deepwater outfalls and whether those outfalls when constructed would meet the SPCC required standards.[42] But I will argue in this section that they also intended the study to be a 'sound argument' that would support the case for the deepwater outfalls and thereby enrol decision-makers.

Caldwell Connell studied how much dilution would be provided by the deepwater outfalls and how quickly faecal coliform died in the ocean. This was perfectly rational because the standards which the deepwater outfalls were supposed to meet were in terms of faecal coliform concentrations. If the new outfalls provided sufficient dilution, as well as enough distance from the shoreline for the faecal coliform to die off as they travelled to shore, then the standards could be met.

But Caldwell Connell also used their study of die-off rates of faecal coliform to provide a "sound argument" that pathogenic organisms would also die-off in the ocean before reaching shore. In other words, they studied how quickly faecal coliform died in the ocean and extrapolated that finding to predict that pathogenic organisms released through the proposed deepwater outfalls would not survive long enough to pose a threat to swimmers. This was despite their admission that different organisms, including those of sewage origin, could be expected to have different die-off rates.

They said they had studied faecal coliform 'as a matter of convenience'.[43] Testing for viruses, Caldwell Connell said, was difficult and costly and could not be carried out without specialist assistance,[44] so viruses were not investigated at all (although special assistance was hired for other aspects of the feasibility study). The possibility that viruses would survive long was dismissed with a statement that 'viruses can only multiply in living host cells' and their numbers 'diminish rapidly through treatment, dilution and natural die-off.'[45] This assumption was not borne out by the relevant scientific literature available at the time, which showed that pathogens - and particularly viruses - often survived much longer than faecal coliforms in sea water.[46] Caldwell Connell seem not to have conducted any literature search in this area despite their own admitted lack of expertise with viruses, nor did they make any effort to back up their assumptions about viruses being short-lived.

The use of faecal coliform in die-off experiments was ironic. Caldwell Connell's findings that faecal coliform die off fairly rapidly revealed little about the fate of other organisms which can be health threatening. Their experiments could just as easily have concluded that faecal coliforms were a poor indicator of sewage. They found that ninety percent of faecal coliform died off in 1 to 7 hours during the day-time. Low concentrations in bathing waters could indicate no pollution, but could also be consistent with pollution that had been there for a more than a few hours or pollution that had come from a few kilometres away.

Caldwell Connell's study of the impact of the deepwater outfalls on marine life is also evidence of their desire for the study to be both a "sound argument" for the outfalls to enrol decision-makers. They said that the study was to develop baseline data on biological and chemical conditions existing prior to construction of the outfalls so that subsequent environmental changes could be detected. But they argued that a detailed investigation of levels of pesticides and heavy metals in the marine environment was beyond the scope of their study.[47] Fairly comprehensive surveys of existing marine biology would help the pro-deepwater outfall case whereas similarly comprehensive studies of the fate of toxic wastes would not since the deepwater outfalls would not prevent the accumulation of toxic waste in the marine environment from continuing to happen.

In fact, a Water Board employee who was taking part in the survey of marine life off Sydney sampled some organisms for heavy metals and pesticides on his own initiative. Although his tests found that heavy metals were accumulating in marine life, with one blackfish tested having levels of mercury in it almost six times the standard for seafood, he claims that the Water Board did not want to know about these tests and he was forced to resign over the matter.[48] The results of his tests were not mentioned in Caldwell Connell's 1976 report although Caldwell Connell reported in 1973 that

It was agreed that, while the data only represented analyses of individual specimens, levels of heavy metals and pesticides detected in this small number of samples were such as to suggest that a potential public health threat or environmental hazard might exist within the study area... Examination of the gut contents of a number of species of fish in the outfall areas shows that they derive a large percentage of their diet from food particles in the sewage. These fish, in turn, may constitute a significant proportion of the diet of persons who regularly fish in these areas. It was concluded that more intensive studies of heavy metal and pesticide levels in the marine environment off Sydney should be undertaken as a matter of some urgency and that the studies should deal initially with the flesh of edible fish.[49]

These studies were never carried out. Caldwell Connell merely pointed out that the dilution required to meet the SPCC standards for heavy metal discharge into the ocean would be provided by the new outfalls and asserted that they would not accumulate in the marine environment. The SPCC standards were conveniently set in terms of concentrations of restricted substances in the ocean 500 metres from the point of discharge (rather than in terms of total amounts going out or concentrations in the effluent) and therefore were compatible with a sewerage solution that provided dilution rather than treatment.

No attempt was made in setting the standards to correlate quantities of heavy metals going out the existing outfalls with levels of contamination of the fish and these standards, like the faecal coliform standards, seem to have been set to fit engineering feasibility rather than the legislative requirements that wastes not to be discharged into ocean waters if they were likely to accumulate in marine life. This became more evident in 1987 when efforts by the SPCC to make the standards far more restrictive were blocked by the Water Board because their deepwater outfalls would not be able to meet them.[50]

The Caldwell Connell report showed that the new deepwater outfalls would meet the negotiated standards that had been set and also helped them adjust design parameters so that the diffusers at the end of the outfall would give sufficient dilution to meet those standards. The masses of data collected and investigations undertaken in what they themselves described as 'one of the most intensive oceanographic and marine biology studies ever undertaken in Australia'[51] do not address the fate of pathogens or toxic waste discharged from the outfalls even though the health threat from swimming in sewage or eating sewage contaminated fish was the primary concern of the public. Rather they serve to give the report the appearance of a well researched comprehensive scientific study. It looked like a "sound argument" for the extended outfalls. It also acted as a barrier between the proponents and would be opponents giving the engineers the authority of expertise and the politicians the technical justification for an essentially political decision. As Nelkin has pointed out:

The authority of expertise rests on assumptions about scientific rationality; interpretations and predictions made by scientists are judged to be rational because they are based on 'objective' data gathered through rational procedures...[52]

The 1976 report displayed apparently objective data and neutral scientific rationality which served to enrol the support of politicians and other government authorities - the people in the power structure whose support was necessary for a favourable decision, most of whom were favourable to the scheme from the start but needed the legitimation offered by the report to go ahead. Their initial enrolment had not been on the basis of technical data but on political and economic grounds. Closure by consensus was to be attained at this level by persuading the alliance of engineers, bureaucrats and politicians that the decision was and also appeared to be based on sound argument because it was supported by a highly technical/scientific report full of facts and figures. Few were interested in actually examining the evidence to convince themselves that it was 'sound'.


The Environmental Impact Statements (EIS's)[53] that went on public display in 1979 were aimed at justifying and legitimating that decision to the public and attaining closure at the community level. The EIS's were done to fulfil legal requirements and to show the public that all the environmental impacts that should have been considered were, and that the decision was based on sound technical advice rather than political expediency, which would have smacked of 'closure by force'. They showed that the government was acting properly and they were heavy with rhetoric.

Caldwell Connell had in their 1976 report not published the data on heavy metals in marine life. In the 1979 EIS's for the deepwater outfalls a similar strategy was used for subsequent studies undertaken by other government bodies. Those studies which showed that fish were accumulating mercury and DDT, Dieldrin and PCBs were not mentioned. But to satisfy the requirements of an EIS they had to show that they had considered the possibility of industrial waste accumulating in the fish so they reported the rogue study done by the dismissed Water Board employee on contamination of marine life. The study was reported in parts spread over the three EIS's with a commentary that tried to downplay the significance of the study whilst at the same time trying to interpret it as supporting their case that industrial waste discharged through the deepwater outfalls would not pose a problem to marine life. One of the Environmental Impact Studies actually stated that

Whilst the statistical significance of the 1973 survey is not able to be clearly established the results are encouraging in that they indicate that no serious environmental problem existed even prior to the full implementation of source control of restricted substances... [54]

This statement was not only inconsistent with the levels of concern expressed internally by the same organisations (the Water Board and Caldwell Connell) in 1973 but it also seemed inconsistent with the data published (see figure 3) in that seven out of nineteen specimens sampled (37%) contained heavy metals in levels exceeding the National Health and Medical Research Council (NH&MRC) maximum residue limits of the time. There seemed to be an assumption that people wouldn't bother to study the data and would accept the Board's interpretation because they were the experts. (Perhaps also the Board cleverly realised that journalists take more notice of words than numbers.)

A similar strategy of forced interpretation was used for the results of testing sediment samples for heavy metals and organochlorines. Samples taken off the coast of the Malabar outfall contained elevated levels of heavy metals when compared to a control site (four times for copper, 7 times for cadmium, 23 times for lead, 33 times for zinc) and levels of DDT further out to sea five times those found at the control site[55] (see figure 4). The interpretation of these results was that 'no serious accumulation of these toxic materials has been observed following the long term discharge of raw and partially treated sewage at Malabar'[56] and therefore one should dismiss the possibility of toxic substances such as heavy metals, pesticides and PCB's in the sediments being concentrated up the food chain. No reasoning was given as to why these levels, which seemed to indicate some accumulation did not represent `serious accumulation'.

A knowledge base full of 'ambiguities' is clearly most useful and most powerful when the interpretation of it is controlled by those who have constructed it to support their own purposes. This requires the knowledge base to be as inaccessible as possible to outsiders and the most damaging contrary evidence to be either dismissed or kept secret.

A more recent example of the dual tactics of secrecy and control of interpretation occurred when further fish studies were undertaken by the SPCC in 1987. By this time far more industrial waste had been discharged into the ocean and for a longer time. The results of the SPCC bioaccumulation study were far worse than any previous studies. Large amounts of organochlorines were found in two fish species caught near the Malabar outfall (see figure 5). For example the red morwong sampled had levels of Benzene Hexachloride in them that were on average 122 times the NH&MRC maximum residue limits for fish and the blue groper had levels of the same chemical that were on average 20 times those limits.

Although several government departments and Water Boards were informed of the results in 1987 and the SPCC officers expressed concern for the health of those eating fish caught near the outfall in an internal memo[57] the results of the study were not made public. The study showed evidence contrary to the public position of the government authorities that industrial waste from the ocean outfalls was not a cause for concern. It was also contrary to the claims of the Water Board and its consultants that toxic waste did not accumulate in sediments.

When the results of the study were finally given to the media by an outsider in 1989 several attempts were made to discredit them. The Water Board argued that 'It is not unusual for studies of this nature to have high errors associated with them due to natural variations within the sample population.'[58] They attempted to discredit the laboratory that performed the analysis, claiming that the large amounts of Heptachlor Epoxide found in the study might really be a sulphur compound. A second study undertaken in 1988 had included an interlaboratory comparison to clear up such doubts. It too showed high levels of organochlorines in fish caught near Malabar and found the laboratory used in the first study to be highly credible. This study also came under attack when the Minister for the Environment was forced by public pressure into publishing it a couple of months after the first study had been given to the media.

The Minister for Agriculture (which covers fisheries) wrote to the Minister for the Environment complaining about the continuing publicity being given to the contamination of fish. He argued that very small errors in technique or measurement could seriously flaw the results when measuring minute amounts of chemicals in fish. He argued that the reports were potentially erroneous since they had not been refereed 'in the standard scientific manner.'

I would appreciate it if you would ensure that media reporters are fully aware that these reports do not have the scientific standing that is being attributed to them... we should take all possible action to prevent the continuation of the unsubstantiated reporting which is doing so much needless damage to one of our State's most important industries.[59]

And whilst the SPCC standards for water quality had been defended by government authorities because they served to support the case for the deepwater outfalls, the standards for maximum residues in fish, set by the NH&MRC, came under attack, presumably because they were undermining the government's case. Whereas in other areas the lack of knowledge behind the standards was glossed over and not discussed, they emphasised the scientific uncertainties on which these standards were based. The NSW Health Department argued that the NH&MRC limits were not really health limits because they incorporated factors of safety. In the report on the 1988 study a Health Department toxicologist stated

The concentration of HCB and chlordane found in red morwong could not be expected to produce acute toxic effects and the effect of long term consumption is unknown.[60]

The authorities had hoped that this interpretation of the health effects would be taken up by the media but instead the media used the NH&MRC limits as they would any other standards. As a consequence a Water Board steering committee tried to find ways of presenting the results of fish monitoring that would be interpreted 'correctly'. This steering committee advised on matters to do with the Environmental Monitoring Programme which was required by the SPCC as part of the approval of the deepwater outfall and their problem was that they were likely to be getting more damaging fish study results during the course of that monitoring.

The Water Board had originally seen the Environmental Monitoring Programme as a way of further building up a knowledge base to support their "sound argument" case. They stated that the second objective of the Programme (the first being to satisfy SPCC requirements) was to 'provide an information base from which the effectiveness of the outfalls can be demonstrated to the community.'[61] But now it was almost impossible to keep fish studies secret and many people feared that the continual release of data showing that fish were contaminated would destroy NSW's fishing industry.

A few months later the levels of mercury in fish from the 1988 study were republished accompanied by a press conference where a university expert, Professor Cairncross, argued that people would have to eat 50kg a week of red morwong, which were consistently over NH&MRC limits for mercury, 'to get any real trouble.'[62] This use of a non-government expert seemed to do the trick. All television channels reported that fish caught off Sydney were now safe to eat. Unfortunately this interpretation came unstuck when environmentalists pointed out to the media that these fish were the same ones that had HCB and chlordane above NH&MRC limits. The university expert was forced to retract his previous statement and claim that he had been misled.[63]

I started off this section by describing these attempts at convincing the public that there was no problem of fish contamination as closure by rhetoric, but clearly the Environmental Impact Statements and reports were not only rhetorical devices. They also endeavoured to put forward "sound arguments" and to control the interpretive flexibility of the data.


The analysis of this controversy tends to be asymmetrical because the controversy itself is. The experts have congregated on one side of the debate and there is very little in terms of a knowledge base on the anti-establishment side to analyse. Opposing groups have mainly had to rely on rhetoric and supplying alternative interpretations of official studies.

The first opposition to the deepwater outfalls emerged leading up to and immediately following the publication of the EIS's in 1979. Most of this opposition was from environmental groups and individual members of the public who opposed the concept of ocean disposal because they looked upon sewage as a resource that should be utilised as water and fertiliser.[64] Their attempts to redefine the problem in this way were not well-organised nor were they successful. They posed no serious threat to the interpretation of the deepwater outfalls as working to end sewage pollution at the beaches. Only one or two 'experts' openly challenged Caldwell Connell's predictions and put up alternative interpretations of how the deepwater outfalls would work.[65] They included a university based marine chemist and an SPCC engineer who was unable to go public at that time because of his employment. Their lone unsubstantiated claims carried little weight with decision-makers against the Caldwell Connell claims that were backed by several years of costly scientific and engineering studies.

The Water Board openly ridiculed its critics and the media readily accepted the official interpretation of the deepwater outfalls. The environmental groups went on to other issues and until 1984, when construction began, there was no visible or organised opposition to the outfalls. Closure was attained through loss of interest. But this outline tells little of why interest was lost. The lack of media support was only one reason. Others included the preoccupation at this time of the major Australian environmental groups with wilderness issues and their abandonment of the urban environment as beyond hope, as well as the lack of mobilisation of beachgoers and surfers around the issue. There was a general resignation to the problem that stemmed in part from the fact that beach pollution had been around for years and in part because of the power of the Water Board and its allies. Neither major political party differed much on the issue and there were big vested interests involved, from industries which used the sewers to dispose of their toxic wastes to local businesses and councils who wanted pollution news suppressed.

Not everyone was content with the scheme, however. Closure does not necessarily mean widespread agreement. It is impossible to know how many people were individually sceptical of the plan. It was a group of young surfers, calling themselves People Opposed to Ocean Outfalls (POOO), who organised the first protest marches in 1985. Surfers, who knew a lot about local ocean conditions and the way the existing sewage field travelled, didn't believe that putting the sewage 2-3 kilometres further out to sea in deeper water would make much difference.

A small coalition of surfers and fringe environmentalists, Stop the Ocean Pollution (STOP), formed at about the same time to oppose the outfalls. None were sewerage experts but they studied the 1976 Caldwell Connell reports, the EIS's and literature on the overseas controversy over the health impacts of swimming in sewage polluted waters. They attempted to deconstruct the knowledge base put together by Caldwell Connell. STOP offered no alternative knowledge base; it just reinterpreted the data starting from the belief that the deepwater outfalls would make little difference. It also selectively used studies from overseas to support its position as the Water Board and Caldwell Connell had done.

STOP's predictions for the performance of the outfalls were not backed up by scientific studies so much as an appeal to so-called common sense. Many people had observed that the sewage from the existing shoreline outfalls already travelled several kilometres on the wind and STOP stressed that all the outfalls would achieve would be to put the sewage out a a few kilometres from the shoreline from where it would be blown back to shore. They carefully disregarded the efforts of the deepwater outfall designers to keep the sewage field under the ocean surface for as much time as they could. They made comparisons with chimney stacks in Europe which had been made higher but had only served to spread air pollution further. The longer outfalls would spread sewage pollution further and contaminate fish in new locations they argued.[66]

Between 1984 and 1988 STOP failed to achieve much support, partly because they did not receive much media attention. They were not credentialed experts and were easily discredited by government authorities who accused them of scare mongering and being pseudo-scientific. Moreover, the deconstruction of a knowledge base can be complex and technical and does not make good newspaper stories. They were completely unfunded. In contrast, the Water Board spent millions of dollars in advertisements and propaganda material attempting to persuade everyone that the beaches would be clean forever once the deepwater outfalls were built.

But what was the point of all this rhetoric on the part of the Water Board? As far as the government was concerned the debate was closed; the technology was being implemented. The advertising campaign was part of the political imperative of the NSW government to sell its policies; to advertise itself as a public benefactor. But the rhetoric was too slick and too overpowering. It made even more people sceptical and as Nelkin and Pollack have observed of other controversies, the promotional material merely increased the polarization on the issue.[67] Previous attempts to redefine the problem by denying that pollution existed or arguing that sewage pollution was not a health problem had undermined the Board's credibility.

The authorities did not enrol the support of the community by rhetoric. People were not opposed to the deepwater outfalls so much as to the interpretation of the outfalls as providing a sufficient and adequate solution, and it only took a shift in community perceptions and some relevant information to reopen the controversy fully again.

In 1989 there was a shift in the larger social context arising from heightened environmental consciousness associated with greenhouse problems and unusual weather patterns. This shift was accompanied by increased media interest in environmental stories and this ensured the publication of revelations at the beginning of that year that Sydney fish were grossly contaminated, that fish studies had been kept secret and that the beaches exceeded Department of Health standards on a considerable proportion of the occasions they were tested.[68] The media kept the story going for the rest of the summer as more and more government secrets were exposed, and a grassroots swell of protest culminated that Easter in the 'Turn Back the Tide' concert on Bondi Beach.

Most of the early media stories had related to the existing outfalls. They did not indicate a deteriorating or crisis situation but an ongoing condition which the deepwater outfalls were supposed to fix. But opponents of the deepwater outfalls like STOP suddenly had no difficulty in getting media attention. They used the opportunity to redefine the deepwater outfalls as a way for the Water Board to continue allowing industry to put toxic waste into the sewers. Using mostly rhetoric with very minimal evidence they argued that had the Board chosen to upgrade treatment at the outfalls to secondary treatment then the levels of toxic waste that industry was allowed to put into the sewers would have had to be cut back drastically so that the microorganisms in the secondary treatment plants would not be killed.

They made extensive use of legislative requirements for their own rhetorical ends. The Regulations of the Clean Waters Act which required that wastes must not adversely affect beaches or accumulate in marine life had clearly not been complied with, and they used this to discredit the SPCC standards and therefore the official definitions of satisfactory performance. They also referred to legislation in force elsewhere in the world, particularly the requirement in the United States that sewage be subject to secondary treatment before discharge.

They continued to highlight inconsistencies in official 'sound arguments' and put alternative interpretations on old studies. The revelation of secret studies had destroyed the credibility of the Board's engineers and scientists and also to some extent that of the SPCC's engineers and scientists. The knowledge base built up by the Board and its consultants, and the carefully constructed interpretations of studies undertaken, were easily discredited.

The government called in outside engineering experts (for it was not the credibility of all experts that had been stained). Given the diminishing acceptability of the old definitions of satisfactory performance the outside experts agreed that the deepwater outfalls were an inadequate solution to beach and ocean pollution problems.[69]

For the time being the controversy over whether the deepwater outfalls will be an adequate solution has closed. This closure is what Engelhardt and Caplan would call `closure by force' because an external authority has declared its decision but that closure may again come into question when the new outfalls are commissioned and an aesthetic improvement becomes evident to beachgoers. In the meantime the controversy over how the treatment plants should be upgraded still goes on.


This study shows that closure is by no means as simple as Pinch and Bijker or even the people involved in the `closure project' would suggest. A controversy may not have one point of resolution, nor is it a simple mattter to identify when resolution has occurred. Controversies operate at different levels, including the organisational, decision-maker and community levels, and have different phases.

It is not always easy to tell what sort of closure is in operation because players, especially those in power, often hide their use of power and influence and mask their reasons for doing things. The same people will attempt to attain closure in different ways at different levels and at different stages of the controversy and may also attempt several methods of closure at the same time with the same people.

The question may be legitimately asked, is the concept of closure useful in the analysis of controversies given the difficulties involved in determining which sorts of closure are being attempted or are in operation and which levels they are working on? Would it not be more fruitful just to concentrate on how the various groups in a controversy, the government bureaucrats, politicians, media and community groups exercise power since it is not possible to fully analyse closure mechanisms without understanding how power is being exercised anyway?

The concept of closure provides a framework for understanding the phases and dynamics of a controversy in a way that an analysis of power relationships does not. Similarly the concept of closure offers a framework for bringing power relationships into the Social Construction of Technology framework that is sometimes missing from studies using actor networks. However the study of closure mechanisms is perhaps a more useful way of providing insights into the strategies various players use to win and the staging posts along the way a way of understanding how controversies are eventually resolved. The latter is the way that the `closure project' has used the concept.

In this study the most recent closure was achieved through the authority of outside experts (`closure by force') but this `final' closure was only a minor event in the course of the controversy and it could be argued that the outside experts were really just falling in line with a closure that had already been achieved. It is of more interest to look at why different types of closure were attempted in different situations. For example closure by consensus is only likely to operate between groups with equivalent power. For that reason it cannot work at the organisational level where hierarchies are very strong nor at the community level where the public's power is limited to voting power. At the decision-makers level there are still differentials of power and it is really a closure by negotiation rather than closure by concensus that operates in NSW's regulatory system.

Closure through sound argument is supposedly the ideal form of closure because it is completlely rational and apolitical but it is doubtful that it ever occurs in the real world. Yet most people assume that controversies can be resolved by the force of sound argument (hence the idea of the science court [70]) and it is important in understanding controversies to realise that whatever strategy each party to the debate employes they all have to appear to have sound arguments. Then other methods of closure will be more readily accepted, particularly `closure by force' which is usually what governments end up using (ie by announcing a decision). If a government is seen to base its decision on expert advise which in turn is based on objective knowledge then opposition to that decision can be dismissed as due 'to emotional commitment, political bias, or some other non-rational cause.'[71]

In this case study what constituted the appearance of a sound argument was a large report that had all the trappings of the popular view of science. It incorporated diagrams, graphs, figures and tables as well as words which were put together by accredited experts over a number of years using computers and scientific equipment. It was supported by rhetoric which reinforced the scientific status of the volume and the persons who put it together. The use of science to this end is not peculiar to NSW engineers but is in line with world-wide engineering practice. (I am not trying to paint NSW sewerage engineers as rogues or villains since they do not differ markedly from their colleagues elsewhere, indeed the engineering consultants used by the Water Board have been American.)

The appearance of sound argument is also fostered by reference to published scientific studies. Players on all sides of a debate use these studies selectively to support their own position, and the scientists and medical people employed by government authorities who have involved themselves in the sewerage controversy and the laypeople in opposing environmental groups have used science in a way very similar to that of the engineers employed by the Water Board.

The official decision in 1983 by the NSW government to build the deepwater outfalls (some years after the decision had been made unofficially) represented a closure through force accompanied by a closure through loss of interest given the lack of opposition at the time. But governments can change (both physically and in response to voter changes) and interest can be rekindled, whether it be by some natural disaster, political crisis, revelation of secret information or the sustained campaigning of an environmental group. Closure of a technological controversy cannot be seen as permanent and the re-emergence of the Sydney sewerage controversy with far more strength than it ever had previously is not surprising in that light.


[0] I would like to thank Randall Albury for reading and commenting on earlier drafts.

[1] Allan Mazur, The Dynamics of Technical Controversy, (Washington D.C.:Communications Press, 1981), 44.

[2] Wiebe Bijker, Thomas Hughes and Trevor Pinch (eds.), The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology, (Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1987).

[3] Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker, 'The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts: or How the Sociology of Science and the Sociology of Technology might Benefit Each Other', Social Studies of Science, vol. 14 (1984), 399-433.

[4] H.Tristram Engelhardt, Jr and Arthur L. Caplan (eds.), Scientific Controversies, (Cambridge University Press, 1987).

[5] Ibid., 2.

[6] H.Tristram Engelhardt, Jr. and Arthur Caplan, 'Patterns of Controversy and Closure: the Interplay of Knowledge, Values, and Political Forces' in H.Tristram Engelhardt, Jr and Arthur L. Caplan (eds.), Scientific Controversies, (Cambridge University Press, 1987), 1-26.

[7] Tom L Beauchamp, 'Ethical Theory and the Problem of Closure', in ibid., 32.

[8] Ernan McMullin, 'Scientific Controversy and its Termination' in ibid., 78.

[9] Everett Mendelsohn, 'Political Anatomy of Controversy in the Sciences' in ibid., 101.

[10] Beauchamp, op.cit., note 7, p30.

[11] David Edge, Review of Scientific Controversies, Isis, vol. 80 (1989), 675.

[12] Randall Albury, The Politics of Objectivity, (Deakin University Press, 1983), 6.

[13] Nigel Gilbert and Michael Mulkay, Opening Pandora's Box: A Sociological Analysis of Scientist's Discourse, (Cambridge University Press, 1984), 2.

[14] Gary Bowden, `The Social Construction of Validity in Estimates of US Crude Oil Reserves', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 15 (1985), 209.

[15] Mazur, op.cit. note 1, 20.

[16] S.P.C.C., Health Aspects of Faecal Contamination, (Sydney: S.P.C.C., 1979), 17.

[17] for example N.A.Smith and W.J.Speir, 'Ocean Discharge of Sewage is a Treatment Option', in 1985 Australasian Conference on Coastal and Ocean Engineering, Preprints of Papers - Vol. 1, (New Zealand: IEAust, IPENZ, NWSCO, 1985), 36; Observer, 7th August 1988; N.R.Achuthan et al, 'Development of a Beach Pollution Index for Sydney Coastal Beaches', Water, (September 1985), 15.

[18] Dave Wheeler, 'Sea Fever: UK's Polluted Beaches', Science for People, Vol. 52, (undated), 9.

[19] B.Moore, 'The Risk of Infection Through Bathing in Sewage-Polluted Water', in E..A.Pearson (ed.), Proceedings of the First International Conference on Waste Disposal in the Marine Environment, (Pergamon Press, 1959), 29-37.

[20] Ibid., 32.

[21] Ibid., 35.

[22] Fred Pearce, 'The Unspeakable Beaches of Britain', New Scientist, (16th July 1981), 139-143; Anon, 'Ministers call for survey of beach sewage', New Scientist, (25th July 1985), 21.

[23] Wheeler, op.cit. note 11, 9.

[24] Observer, 7th August 1988.

[25] S.P.C.C., (1979) op.cit. note 13, 16-23.

[26] Ibid. In Australia it is the State governments that have responsibility for environmental protection and pollution control. In New South Wales it is the State Pollution Control Commission which is responsible for controlling pollution throughout the state and it regulates the activities of the Water Board which is responsible for providing water and sewerage to Sydney metropolitan and nearby regions. The New South Wales Health Department is responsible for public health matters throughout the state and therefore has overlapping concerns with the SPCC when it comes to pollution of bathing waters.

[27] Cathie S.W.Kueh and Gerhard S. Grohmann, 'Discovery of Viruses and Bacteria in Waters off Bondi Beach: a Pilot Study', Medical Journal of Australia, Vol. 151, (December 1989), 632-636.

[28] Faecal coliform are naturally occuring bacteria which reside in the gut and are contained in faecal matter.

[29] Ibid., 636.

[30] Mazur, op.cit. note 1, 17.

[31] for example Shiela Jasanoff, `Contested Boundaries in Policy-Relevant Science', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 17 (1987), 195-230; Brendon Gillespie, Dave Eva and Ron Johnston, `Carcinogenic Risk Assessment in the USA and UK: The Case of Dieldrin' in Barry Barnes & David Edge (eds.), Science in Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science, (Open University Press, 1982), 303-335.

[32] Gillespie et. al., op.cit. note 29.

[33] Jasanoff, op.cit. note 29, 197.

[34] Timothy O'Riordan, `Approaches to Regulation' in Harry Otway and Malcolm Peltu (eds.), Regulating Industrial Risks, (Butterworths, 1985), p27.

[35] S.P.C.C., Design Criteria for Ocean Discharge, Environmental Design Guide WP-1.

[36] S.P.C.C., (1979), op.cit note 13.

[37] Ibid., 17.

[38] Caldwell Connell, Sydney Submarine Outfall Studies, (Sydney: MWS&DB, 1976), xiii.

[39] N.S.W. Clean Waters Regulations, (1972).

[40] Brown and Caldwell, Design Report: Malabar Sewage Treatment Works, (Sydney: MWS&DB, July 1965); Brown and Caldwell, Northern Suburbs Sewerage Survey 1966-1967, (Sydney: MWS&DB, 1967).

[41] Caldwell Connell, op.cit. note 30, 34.

[42] Ibid., covering letter.

[43] Ibid., 149.

[44] Ibid., 149.

[45] Ibid., 12.

[46] for example C.P. Gerba et al, 'Viruses in Water. The Problem, Some Solutions', Environmental Science & Technology, Vol. 9, (1975), 112-116; Coastal Pollution Research Committee, Report of the Coastal Pollution Research Committee of the Water Pollution Research Laboratory, (London: Dept. of the Environment, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, 1974); H.I. Shuval,'The Case for Microbial Standards for Bathing Beaches' in Discharge of Sewage from Sea Outfalls, (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1975), 95-101.

[47] Caldwell Connell, op.cit. note 30, 129.

[48] Sydney Morning Herald, 4th February 1989.

[49] Caldwell Connell, Reconnaisance Survey of Heavy Metal and Pesticide Levels in Marine Organisms in the Sydney Area, (Sydney, October 1973).

[50] Clean Waters Advisory Committee, minutes, 10th September 1987.

[51] Caldwell Connell, op.cit. note 26, covering letter.

[52] Dorothy Nelkin, 'The Political Impact of Technical Expertise', Social Studies of Science, Vol. 5, (1975), 36.

[53] Caldwell Connell, Environmental Impact Statement, North Head Water Pollution Control Plant, (Sydney: M.W.S.&D.B., 1979); Caldwell Connell , Environmental Impact Statement, Malabar Water Pollution Control Plant, (Sydney: M.W.S.&D.B., 1979); Water Board, Environmental Impact Statement, Bondi Water Pollution Control Plant, (Sydney: M.W.S.&D.B.,1979).

[54] Water Board, op.cit., note 45, 30-31.

[55] Caldwell Connell, Malabar EIS, op.cit., note 45, 43.

[56] Ibid., 72.

[57] Bioaccumultion of Organochlorine Pesticides Near the Malabar Ocean Outfall, Meeting Notes, (18th May, 1988).

[58] cover note to an early unpublished copy of the 1987 Malabar Bioaccumulation Study.

[59] letter from Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, Ian Armstrong to Minister for the Environment, Tim Moore, 13th July 1989.

[60] S.P.C.C., Bioaccumulation in Nearshore Marine Organisms II, (Sydney, S.P.C.C., March 1989), 44.

[61] Water Board, Sydney Deepwater Outfalls Environmental Monitoring Programme Pilot Study, Vol. 1, (March 1988), 3.

[62] News reports, all television channels, 3rd July 1989.

[63] Sydney Morning Herald, 28th July 1989.

[64] Sharon Beder, Toxic Fish and Sewer Surfing, (Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1989), chapter 5.

[65] Ibid., chapter 4.

[66] For example, Richard Gosden, 'Sewerside Culture', Engineering and Social Responsibility, Vol. 2, No. 2, (March 1985), 6-7; Richard Gosden,'Truth Surfacing on Submerged Field', Engineering and Social Responsibility, Vol. 2, No. 7, (August 1985), 3-5; Richard Gosden, Sydney's Toxic Waste Dump-the Pacific', Chain Reaction, Vol. 46, (Winter 1986), 18-20.

[67] Dorothy Nelkin and Michael Pollak, 'Public Participation in Technological Decisions: Reality or Grand Illusion?', Technology Review, Vol. 81, No. 8, (1979), 58.

[68] For example, Sydney Morning Herald, 7th January 1989.

[69] Camp, Dresser & McKee International, Review of Sydney's Beach Protection Programme, (Sydney: CDM, September 1989).

[70 Barry Casper and Paul Wellstone, `Science court on trial in Minnesota' in Barry Barnes & David Edge (eds.), ]Science in Context: Readings in the Sociology of Science, (Open University Press, 1982), 282-289.

[71] Albury, op.cit., note 11, 7.