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Corrosion and Society

Paper Number: 71
Author/s: D O Northwood1
Organisation: University of Windsor1, Windsor, Ontario, Canada

Abstract

It has long been well known that corrosion can seriously damage your wealth. Various studies over the past 50 or so years have shown that the economic impact worldwide of corrosion represents about 3.5% of the GDP. This percentage GPD lost to corrosion has remained constant despite the development of new materials and corrosion prevention methods, and constant reminders that awareness of corrosion is essential to reduce the cost burden of corrosion. Probing further into these costs, it is estimated that 25 to 35 percent of those costs are preventable using known methods. With the global cost of corrosion estimated to be 2.5 trillion USD these “preventable” costs could potentially be up to $875 billion. Is this acceptable? What are we doing “wrong”? The “costs” so far examined are the financial costs but corrosion costs society in three ways: financially; wasteful of natural resources; causes considerable inconvenience to human beings, including loss of life. The last two are considered to be ‘social implications’. These ‘social implications’ have, in part, been addressed by making society more aware of corrosion. However, the responsibility for much of the financial and human costs of corrosion still rests in ‘the accountants’ ivory towers where short term (short sighted?) financial decisions and cost-cutting measures are made. Corrosion, and its associated costs, both financial and social, is a complex, often called “wicked”, problem. Problem solving should be solution, rather than problem (i.e., corrosion), focused and involves not only financial and materials/engineering considerations, but also social, political and ethical considerations. As encouraged by Nick Birbilis, “Let’s keep corrosion in mind as we design not only new structures and components, but in the designing a more sustainable future.” Sustainability is, after all, design for the purpose of enriching human life.