Saturday, March 18, 2006

We can keep the organ if we all take turns pumping the bellows

The Law of Unintended Consequences raised its head today in this news article on church organs. Getting rid of lead is a good thing, right? Not if you are a pipe organ, it isn't. It turns out that organ pipes are made of 50 percent lead (to give them that characteristic sound). On the face of it, one wouldn't think that in itself would be a problem. The pipes are cast already and even during operation the most that happens to them is that air is blown through them, right?

(An aside: Alright, the analytical/contrarian side of my mind immediately starts considering things like lead dust being blown out amongst the congregation, creating a sort of second-hand 'lead-ing', but no one has reported any such issue that I am aware of, so back to the point of this piece...)
The problem is with the blowing - the air is pushed through the pipes by an electric blower. Here is where the Law comes in. The European Union has a set of directives (EU Directive 2002 95/EC RoHS and EU Directive 2002 96/EC WEEE) that dictate that electrical devices can have no more than 0.1 percent lead. Pipe organs have an electric blower, therefore they are electrical devices and either must be refurbished or replaced.

The other considerations my anayltical mind latched onto about the lead, its lifecycle, and impacts on the environment and human health are all reported to be non-issues. So, it all comes down to unintended consequences - at least one hopes that it was unintended. We don't have many 1,000 year old traditions in the first place and even fewer that have brought so much awe, joy, inspiration, and pleasure to the ears and hearts of so many. What would Mozart or Bach have to say about this, I wonder?

(Image source: the website of the Rieger Pipe Organ in the Christchurch Town Hall, New Zealand)


Joe Hennon said...

Just a couple of comments:
This is a Directive aimed at controlling the use of hazardous waste such as mercury, cadmium, lead etc. in order to minimise long-term environmental threat. It's mostly aimed at the electrical and electronics industries.

I can reassure you that:
- existing church organs are outside the scope of the directive and can anyway continue to be repaired or upgraded using lead, i.e. Salisbury, St Paul's Cathedrals etc. are safe from EU intrusion!
- new organs are outside the scope of the directive if they use bellows as the source of energy, only organs using electric power as a source of energy are affected
- British industry builds on average 3 very big or big electric powered pipe organs a year and about 40 small or medium sized organs annually.
- Should they want to continue to use lead, they could apply for an exemption but so far nobody has.

Keith said...

I do appreciate the "official" rebutal. However, your message doesn't seem to be either getting out or getting accepted by other reputable sources, based on additional checking I've done since your comment was posted. There still seems to be a lot of concern about additional paperwork & permissions as well as reports about presumably legitimate rennovations running into trouble.