Authors: Edmund Tsang, John C. Reis
Suggested Courses: Fluid Mechanics & Statics
Picture of Mount Dioxin
ETC was a former wood-treating company. The facility occupies 26 acres in an industrial
area, but three African-American residential neighborhoods are in the immediate vicinity
of ETC. The site was first developed for creosote wood preserving in 1941;
penta-chlorophenol (PCP) has been used as a preservative at the site since 1963 and was
the only preservative used after 1970. Manufacturing activities had not taken place at the
facility since October 1982, and the site was officially abandoned through bankruptcy
proceedings in February 1991.
The RCRA (Resource Conservation & Recovery Act) inspection report in February, 1981
showed that ETC was cited for numerous non-compliances, including no inspection logs, no
personnel training records, no groundwater monitoring, no protective cover and inspections
of surface impoundments, and no inspection-data/inspection-schedules, etc.
In June, 1990, during a remedial investigation and feasibility study (RI/FS) of a
Superfund site (the ACE Chemical site) located 3,000 feet to the northeast of ETC,
groundwater contamination from the ETC location was detected at the ACE facility.
In September, 1991, preliminary assessment began at the ETC site to determine the
extent of contamination. Soil sampling showed that at one sampling location, PCP was
detected at a concentration of 170 ppm (parts per million) at 4 feet below the surface, of
160 ppm at 8 feet below the surface, of 170 ppm at 5 feet below the surface and of 170 ppm
at 6 feet below the surface at another sampling location. Sampling results also showed 180
ppm and 160 ppm, respectively, at 8 feet below the surface at two different sampling
locations; and 150 ppm and 160 ppm, respectively, at five feet below the surface at two
other different locations. High concentrations of creosote, dioxin, benzene, lead, and
arsenic were also detected on site. No samples were collected below 8 feet. Based on this
sampling study, EPA began soil excavation under the Emergency Removal provision of the
Superfund law; this means that work can begin without publishing a public notice.
According to an Action Memo to EPA dated April, 1991, the EPA manager for the ETC site
requested $1.3 million, of which $1 million was for contractor's fee. Work to be performed
included soil excavation and additional sampling. In January 1992, the ETC site manager
wrote another action memo and requested that funding be increased to $2 million with $1.4
million allotted for the contractor. The action memo also pointed out that approximately
54,000 cubic yards of waste sludge and soil had been excavated so far, but acknowledged
that the volume of waste material had been greatly underestimated. The memo said waste
sludge could go as deep as 40 feet and estimated the total volume of waste sludge and
contaminated soil to be over 100,000 cubic yards.
Four months later, in May, 1992, the site manager wrote another action memo to the
regional office of EPA to increase the amount of requested fund to $4.4 million, with $3.3
million for the contractor. The memo also stated that approximately 180,000 cubic yards
had been excavated and stockpiled on site and that the depth of contamination is almost
four times deeper, covering a 50 percent larger area than originally suspected. Based on
the amount of soil excavated so far, the site manager estimated that it would cost an
additional $43 million to treat the contaminated soil. Since $43 million is more that
twice the yearly budget for the Regional Removal Program, the site manager suggested that
a suitable vinyl cover for the stockpiled soil that would last five years be designed.
The last action memo for the ETC site was dated January 6, 1993. The site manager
increased the requested amount to $5 million with $4.3 million allotted for the
contractor. The memo stated that a total of 255,000 cubic yards of PCP, creosote, and
dioxin-contaminated soil were removed and stockpiled on site, and that severe weather
conditions led to problems in installing a stormwater drainage/erosion control system as
well as the vinyl tarp which covered the stockpiled soil. In addition, the memo stated
that a November 1992 storm destroyed the temporary cover, and that the installed portion
of the permanent cover was damaged by wind gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. Soil
excavation was finally completed by Spring, 1993, and the stockpiled soil was covered by a
60 mil thick, UV-resistant vinyl tarp. The ETC site was not placed on the Superfund
National Priority List (NPL) for cleanup until December, 1994.
Creosote, PCP, and dioxin compounds have a number of toxicological effects on humans
and will adversely affect human health. Acute effects include severe eye, skin, and
respiratory irritation, chloracne, burning of exposed skin, erythema, anorexia, acute
nausea, and dyspnea. The chronic health threats range from carcinogenicity, mutagenicity,
teratogenicity, and long-term respiratory impairment to death.
During soil excavation, neighboring residents complained of respiratory problems as
well as other health problems, such as skin rash, caused by the contaminated dust. Former
ETC workers who lived in the neighboring communities reported additional contaminated
locations to the site manager, but he refused to listen to them. Security around the ETC
site was lax, and the local newspaper reported that kids were discovered using the
vinyl-covered pile of contaminated soil, "Mount Dioxin," as a giant slide.
II. Numerical Problems
1. Due to aerodynamics, there is a concern that the vinyl tarp might be blown away by
wind. Calculate the lift on the vinyl tarp caused by a 75 mph wind gust, stating any
assumption you make.
2. Determine the anchoring force needed for the vinyl tarp.
III. Ethics Problems
For the EPA site manager:
The EPA site manager is under organizational pressure to begin cleanup, but he is also
concerned about the health impact of soil excavation on the surrounding communities.
Furthermore, he is constrained by budget and incomplete sampling data. Soil sampling
showed the same degree of contamination (150 to 180 ppm PCP) at 8 feet and 5 feet.
1. There are a number of ways to test the ethical permissibility of actions. Here are
The Golden Rule Test asks whether we would be willing to exchange places with those
affected by our actions.
The Rights Tests asks whether our actions violate the rights of others, including the
right to free and informed consent, to life, and to health.
The Utility Test asks what action would produce the most well-being for the most
people, even if some individuals are harmed.
The site manager knows a number of former ETC workers living in adjacent neighborhoods
who can help him identify additional contaminated locations, but he is under pressure from
the EPA regional office to move quickly. Based on the three tests how should the EPA site
manager respond to not notifying the affected communities?
2. There is an apparent conflict between informed consent and utility (as measured by
quick action). Which consideration should be given priority here? Explain.
3. The site manager knows that the ETC site has resulted in groundwater contamination
but he also knows that funds are insufficient to immediately treat the excavated soil.
Experience shows him that it generally takes about ten years to clean up a Superfund site.
What is the ethically justifiable course of action to take during the intervening ten
For the Contractor:
An engineer working for the contractor to excavate the contaminated soil found out that
only $1 million was initially budgeted for the ETC site. He also knows from soil sampling,
which was performed by another contractor, that contamination goes deeper than 8 feet and
covers a larger area
1. Should this engineer recommend additional soil sampling before excavation begins,
which would decrease the amount of funds available to his company for soil excavation?
Analyze his decision from the standpoint of the three tests for ethical action mentioned
2. Is there a creative middle way between more sampling and recommending immediate soil
excavation to the EPA site manager?
For the Regional Manager of EPA:
Funding priority for cleanup depends on a site's being placed on the National Priority
List (NPL), and the ETC site had not been placed on the NPL.
1. Justify his approval for funding request from the ETC site manager under the
Emergency Removal provision of Superfund law based on the three tests mentioned earlier.
2. What considerations should he have taken prior to approving the soil excavation
plan, even though sampling data is incomplete?
3. How would he justify his approving soil excavation and stockpiling with no plan for
IV. Solutions To Numerical Problems
1. Determine the lift force on the vinyl tarp
Given: volume of contaminated soil = 255,000 cubic yards
Assume a half-cylindrical shape: pR2L = 255,000
cu.yd with L = 450 ft
therefore, radius R = 40 yards = 120 ft
Assume a 75 mph wind velocity from a minimal hurricane, velocity V = 110 ft/sec
Reynold's No. Re = rVD/m
where r = density of air = 1.23 kg/m3 at standard
conditions = 0.0934 lbm/ft3
m = viscosity of air = 1.78 x 10-5 kg/m-sec at
Substituting, Re = 5.5 x 108; and for a half cylinder, table
gives a lift coefficient CL = 0.5
The relationship between lift force, FL, and lift coefficient, CL
is given by:
CL = FL/(1/2)rV2Ap
or, FL = (1/2)CLrV2Ap
where, for a half cylinder, the planform area Ap = (2R)L = 108,000 ft2
FL = (1/2)(0.5)(0.0934 lbm/ft3)(1 lbf-sec2/32.1
lbm-ft)(110 ft/sec)2(108,000 ft2)
= 9.53 x 105 lbf
This is the total upward lift force on the vinyl from aerodynamic forces due to a 75
mph wind gust from a hurricane.
2. To determine the anchoring force for vinyl tarp
Based on free-body diagram of vinyl tarp, for equilibrium
SF = 0: FL = W + FA
where W = weight of vinyl tarp = mg
FA = anchoring force
m = mass of vinyl tarp = density x volume
density r = 1.40 g/cc = 87.33 lbm/ft3
dimension of tarp: 60 mil thick with a width of 2R = 240 ft and a length
of L = 450 ft
volume of tarp = Area x thickness = 540 ft3
W = (87.33 lbm/ft3)(540 ft3)(1 lbf-sec2/32.1
lbm-ft)(32.1 ft/sec2) = 47,160 lbf
Therefore, FA = FL - W = 9.53 x 105 - 47,160) lbf=
Assuming 1 anchor bolt per foot around the perimeter of vinyl tarp,
perimeter = 2D + 2L = 1,140 ft
Therefore, 1,140 bolts are needed.
Force on each bolt = 905,840 lbf/1,140 = 795 lbf
This is the force on each anchor bolt to counter the aerodynamic lift of a minimal
V. Ethical Solutions
1. IN order to apply the Golden Rule Test, the EPA site manager would have to ask
whether he would be willing to exchange places with those living near the site. The
narrative states that "chronic health threats range from carcinogenicity,
mutangenicity, teratogenecity, and long-term respiratory impairment to death." It is
doubtful if he would be willing to accept these consequences, certainly not without
informed consent. So by the Golden Rule Test, he should notify the affected communities of
the danger. The Rights Test would come to a similar conclusion. Not telling those who live
nearby about the danger certainly violates the right to free and informed consent and
possibly the rights to life and health as well. The results of the Utility Test might be
somewhat more open to question. There might be some arguments that the public at large
would not be affected by the chemicals, and they would benefit from not having the tax
dollars spent to clean up the site. However, a general policy of subjecting some citizens
to unnecessary risk can produce social unrest and result in other consequences that do not
promote the welfare of the majority, even if they are not directly affected by the toxins.
In any case, the strong and clear conclusions of the first two tests probably justify
informing those affected of the dangers, and cleaning up the mess as well.
2. As the last question indicates, considerations of general welfare should probably be
overridden by considerations of the rights of individuals who can potentially be harmed
and at the very least denied the right of free and informed consent. Besides, whether
there is greater utility in refusing to inform the residents is not clear.
3. The site manager faces the fact that it may be ten years before the toxins are
removed. In the meantime, the residents in the area could be exposed to various health
problems. His first obligation is to inform the residents of the danger. He should
certainly take steps to prevent the most obvious kinds of exposure. For example, he should
prevent children from playing on "Mt. Dioxin." He may also be able to get some
emergency funding to move the residents from the area. He should also arrange to have the
health of the residents who chose to remain in the area constantly monitored. Students may
be able to think of other creative ways to make the best of a bad situation.