EU Pipe-Organ Makers Caught in Environmental Flap

A European Union environmental directive aimed at reducing the use of lead in electronic devices could force organ builders to look for alternative metals. Katherine Venning, president of the Institute of British Organ Building, tells Liane Hansen how organ makers are adapting.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

This summer a new environmental law goes into effect in the European Union which will restrict the amount of lead used to manufacture electronic equipment. When old cell phones and computers are dumped into landfills, they can pollute the ground water. The measure may also affect a centuries-old industry, organ building, because there is lead in the pipes.

Katherine Venning is the president of the Institute of British Organ Building and the director of an organ manufacturing company, Harrison and Harrison, and she joins us from her home in Durham, England.

Welcome to the program, Ms. Venning.

Ms. KATHERINE VENNING (President, Institute of British Organ Building): Thank you.

HANSEN: Did the architects of this law actually consider organs when they issued the directive?

Ms. VENNING: I'm absolutely sure they didn't.

HANSEN: Really?

Ms. VENNING: I think it's a very big mistake and when they realized what had happened, there wasn't a lot they could do because it's already passed into law.

HANSEN: Are old organs actually dumped into landfills?

Ms. VENNING: I don't think any organs are dumped into landfill, old or new. There are a lot of old organs which got very old pipe work in them, so as long as the pipe work is good and the voicing is good, those pipes will just stay and stay. But there are obviously organs which are being moved out and anybody here will take the metal to the scrap merchant. If they are a person not connected with organ building and if they're organ builders, they'll put it in the pot, melt it down, and turn it into new organ pipes.

HANSEN: So they're recycled essentially?

Ms. VENNING: They're recycled and they always have been recycled, which is why we find this particular directive such a frustration, because it was never meant to encompass pipe organs.

HANSEN: So if you can't use lead, what will you use?

Ms. VENNING: We haven't actually got that far, although of course it is possible to use other materials such as wood, but as far as replacing the lead, we've not got that far in the conversation yet, because what we want to try and prove is that the organ is not included in the directive. There may have to be some very clever legal argument to prove that the organ is not, according to this particular law, a musical instrument.

HANSEN: What?

Ms. VENNING: Well, I'm afraid that musical instruments are included in this particular directive, which is where we've got scooped up.

HANSEN: What will you call an organ, a piece of furniture?

Ms. VENNING: Well, I think the argument will be slightly different because it's not consumers who buy organs, and so we're trying to say, well, all those other items, which included musical instruments, were consumer items and consumers tend to dispose of them sooner or later. Whereas if you have an organ, it is in fact not only a fixed object, but perhaps more importantly for the wording of the law, that the consumers are in fact not consumers as such, but corporate bodies of some kind.

HANSEN: Katherine Venning is president of the Institute of British Organ Building and she joined us from her home in Durham, England. Thank you so much for your time.

Ms. VENNING: Thank you.

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