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Technology & Society

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With the advent of extreme technological society has given rise to a global exchange of ideas between citizens of different countries.

Many groups have objections related to this massive production. Their objections include that science and technology gives power to multinational firms effectively responsible to no one; that it is effectively Americanization since the major multinational firms are US-owned and institutions such as the World Bank are controlled by the US government; that it destroys local culture and independence; and that market forces result in extreme ecological damage.

Chemical hazardous materials are present in the environment naturally. Out of these hazardous materials, of greater concern are those that are the end effect or by-product of the production progression. End results (e.g., pesticides) are consumed by consumers; by-products are those that build up until disposed. It is in the discard stage that these materials get the designation “hazardous waste.”

For years, an apparently acceptable nongovernmental explanation to the disposal of these toxic wastes was affected. Producers of hazardous wastes would dispose them on-site (permitting them to accumulate in surface impoundments such as pits, ponds, and lagoons) or indenture for their transport to an off-site disposal location. In either case, the hazardous by-product is expediently handled by the private sector. If any governmental involvement occurred, it was limited to enforcement of common nuisance laws.

Essential to this process is the pressure to secure economic advantage by instituting a low cost disposal method. The provision of resources to the discard stage would, rather obviously, cut into profits. As a result, minimizing expense at this stage would result in greater profitability to the enterprise. Any indication of future complications could be ignored in the discovery of short-term economic advantage.

The growing awareness of the larger impact of this process that low cost usually translates into unsafe disposal forced governmental imposition. Highly detectable spills and accidents triggered public screech for corrective action by government and turned what had been commonly thought of as the musings of doomsayers into a real political matter (Freeman, H.M. and Harris, E.F. 2004).

Overall, economic growth in the developed countries has been driven to a considerable extent by progress achieved by the chemical industry. At present more than 10 million chemical compounds have been formulated, and up to 300 new chemicals apparently enter the market each year, with the current world production of chemicals set at about 400 million tonnes. Production of chlorinated organic compounds, for example, have increased dramatically in the last two decades because of their use in metal cleaning and degreasing, dry-cleaning, and paint stripping. Within the United States alone, it is estimated that between 600 000 and 800 000 tonnes of chlorinated solvents were used in 1999; of that, methylene chloride accounted for the largest portion of approximately 160 000 tonnes, followed by trichloroethylene (TCE), perchloroethylene (PCE), and 1, 1, 1-trichloroethane (1, 1, 1-TCA) at approximately 130000 tonnes each. Residual wastes from the use of these chlorinated solvents in the EU countries is estimated to be about 200 000 tonnes, with only approximately 90 000 tonnes being recycled (Zach, A., Binner, E. & Muna, L. 2000).

A technology persuading role for the federal government was supported. Thus one of the public-private sector lines could be government financial support of research and development in different treatment and disposal technologies. Several of the technological avenues apparent to be most remarkable include: (1) waste reduction, (2) pretreatment, and (3) resource revival. The first option rivets the diminution of the amount of waste engendered in the production process. The induction for the installation of these modifications is that there will be less waste to dispose of, therefore a cost savings will affect.

But a restore of the production process is not the simply waste reduction alternative accessible. A variety of pretreatment techniques physical, chemical, biological exist. Their goal is not restricted to a reduction in the volume of waste but comprises the segregation of reusable substances and the detoxification of waste streams additionally.

Interest in the development of pretreatment depends on incentives: openly, by means of federal research subsidies; ultimately, by a state’s economic dissuasion of land filling.

As the potential of resource recuperation is evident, its wide-ranging use will first need a reorientation toward visualizing of toxic waste streams as helpful. Growing wakefulness of recycling prospects (particularly as costs of disposal and raw materials escalate) has led to the development of waste exchanges and the materialization of a new occupation waste brokerage. Thus far the impact is limited in that only about ten percent of the presented waste materials are exchanged. Federal legislation to support these options would surely speed their development and dispersion.

One regulatory cost-cutter is co-production the participation of the citizenry (the consumer) in the stipulation of a service (Borzelleca J. 2001). An instance of active co production would be the use of citizen volunteers (rather than employees) to watch the contaminant level at a disposal facility. A more inert approach to coproduction include corrective behavior on the part of residents, such as appealing in proper disposal of pesticide residues or waste oil (Carpenter D, Arcaro K, Spink D. 2002.). The idea of coproduction meshes with the oft-heard demand for less government. The virtual newness of hazardous waste authoritarian activity may ease the installation of coproduction. A more formal means of citizen contribution is through the use of task forces, study committees, and the like. Formation of these groups buys time for the state, shifts accountability, provides expertise at little cost, and guarantees a source of support for whatever recommendations are made. These informal groups usually are constructed to exploit the array of viewpoints and viewpoints in the policy dialogue. Citizen association in hazardous waste management is being optimistic by nongovernmental entities, more particularly, a variety of national environmental organizations. The Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Citizens Clearinghouse for Hazardous Waste, and the Environmental Action Foundation are organizing grassroots efforts to power hazardous waste policy. They give technical information about toxic waste, inspect local dumpsites, and systematize citizens for political action. Coalitions of community-based ecological groups are undertaking citizen education projects as well. Improved activism heightens the visibility of the issue and, thus, its unmanageability.

The pesticide manufacturing process is similarly plagued with evident double standards. To lessen cost and avoid the high environmental standards in developed countries, the pesticide industry expanded numerous of its production operations to the Third World. Thousands of subsidiaries and associates have spread and continue spreading all through the globe, increasing even further the load carried by people of the Third World. Local formulation plants usually have lower standards and weaker controls than related plants in the developed countries (Elliot S, Eyles J, DeLuca P. 2001). The production of paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide, by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), provides an exceptional case study.

Paraquat, the main weed-killer in the world, is produced mostly by ICI in the developed countries. Sales of paraquat, whose main formulation is Gramoxone account for 33 percent of ICI annual agrochemical sales. The majority of paraquat’s production takes place in the USA, where ninety percent of it is exported. However, in an attempt to sustain control over growing markets, ICI strategy has been to invest in extremely efficient large-scale manufacturing plants in the U.S., Japan and Brazil, and small end-stage processing units in India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Though ICI’s health and safety record in its Cheshire plant in Northwestern England is not unblemished, it has improved considerably since production started in 1961, and is now said to have half the accident rates of the UK chemical industry as a whole (Dinham, 1989).

In Malaysia, paraquat is manufactured by the Chemical Company of Malaysia, fifty percent owned by ICI. Since 1981, paraquat production in Malaysia has been bounded by public concern over the probable effects of atmospheric pollution generated from the plant. A study by the Malaysian Ministries of Environment and Health and the Department of Factories and Machinery accomplished that workers in the plant were at risk of being exposed to paraquat aerosols exceeding the Threshold Limit Value. Worker’s urine samples were found to have paraquat concentrations greater than the adequate level (Dinham, 1989). To date, the company has done nothing to assure the health and safety of the workers and the people that live within the propinquity of the plant, in contrast to its behavior in the developed world.

These practices saw the most catastrophic consequences in the 1984 accident of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. The accident has been reported as the world’s worst industrial disaster, with a toll of over 3,400 killed and at least 50,000 eternally injured (Dembo, 1989 ). Union Carbide’s operations in India go back to colonial times, when the first plant opened in 1905. In an attempt to support development and economic growth through industrialization, the Indian government provided incentives to corporations like Union Carbide to ascertain its operations there. Sixty years later, the company was permitted to build a plant in Bhopal, on government land at a yearly rent of less than $40 per acre. By 1984, when the accident occurred, the initial $1 million investment had developed into a $25 million manufacturing facility (Weir, 1987).

Only four years earlier, in response to the rising demand for Sevin, the company’s most significant pesticide, and the Bhopal plant began the production of methyl isocyanate (MIC). MIC, the toxic gas that ultimately asphyxiated the citizens of Bhopal, is a transitional chemical used in the production of some pesticides, and is particularly dangerous because it is heavier than air and thus remains close to the ground. One of its mechanisms is phosgene, a nerve gas first used as a chemical weapon during World War I. According to Doull (2001), Union Carbide was well attentive of the hazards of MIC, yet, based on the expected doubling of the demand for Sevin, it went ahead with the design of the Bhopal plant.

Union Carbide’s grandiose plans were stopped when the demand for Sevin leveled off after a drought in eighties. This sunk Indian farmers into a financial crisis, and they began buying less exclusive pesticides. Also, in 1981 the Indian government granted licensing for Union Carbide’s competitors to sell pyrethroids, a new class of pesticides which are less toxic and can be used in smaller quantities.

The Sevin market shrank and Union Carbide was left with a $25 million “white elephant” that did not convene the standards of analogous plants in the U.S., and it was equipped with three 15,000 gallon storage tanks for the lethal MIC. Within a couple of years, the price was paid by the people of Bhopal.

In this case we as well see how the double standard extends all the way through the accountability process. On February 14, 1989, the Indian Supreme Court approved an out-of-court settlement between the Indian government and Union Carbide. In the settlement, Union Carbide agreed to pay a total of $470 million in exchange for release from any further legal accountability for the disaster (Dembo, 1989). This was supposed to recompense for more than 3,400 deaths and more than 50,000 permanent injuries and all the ecological damage caused by the disaster. As one would expect, the settlement provoked outrage in India. To put this figure in viewpoint, it can be compared with the $108 million paid by Monsanto Corporation to the family of a single one of its chemical workers who contracted leukemia due to benzene exposure ( Dembo, 1989 ). It has become obvious that in the eyes of the multinational corporations (and the Indian Supreme Court) the life of Indian people is worth much less than that of North Americans.

However, besides these efforts, The United States deeply lacks charismatic leaders to convention the environmental instincts of a nation plagued by eco-risks. Such leaders could assist bridge the gap between the suspicion of the public and the efforts of the government. A Jacques Costeau, a Carl Sagan, or a Ralph Nader for the environment simply has not emerged throughout the past twenty years. The administrators of the EPA are viewed as temporary captains of the ship. I hope that during the century new leaders will step forth who can blend the emotions of the general public and command the attention of the government while encouraging the ideas set forth by John Muir earlier in the century.

For more than fifty years we survived the cold war that divided East and West. As we get ready to enter the next century, we could be on the threshold of a hot war between nature and humanity. Environmentalists have connected the diplomats, generals, and bankers as full-fledged members of the national security concerns of most countries. Indeed, environmental security is rapidly becoming as significant as military or economic security. All nations have been combating local skirmishes to preserve their cities and towns, their rivers and beaches, and their forests and parks. Now we require broader alliances to combat the environmental mercenaries of global warming and ocean pollution. Since only humanity can be the winner or loser in ecological battles, all nations should be on the same side.

The United States must be among the leaders and not the followers in this international struggle facing all nations. But we will be able to direct simply if we have our own problems under control. The United States is the world’s largest polluter and needs to lessen its own emissions if, for example, it is to support preservation of forests in the Amazon to help take up these emissions.

The United States is the world’s richest nation. If it is to lead, it requires reordering budget priorities. Is one B-2 stealth bomber really twice as important as the annual research budget of the EPA? Should the United States continue to be among the stingiest of all donors of foreign aid? Can the states really be expected to shoulder the increasing economic burden of pollution control without greater assist from Washington?

We can avoid an environmental apocalypse, but we don’t have much time. According to the Administrator of the EPA, William Reilly, “… the United States does not now face an environmental crisis. Progress persists in abating some types of pollution problems in some places, and in the short haul no impending disasters can be predicted from a failure to address any of the lengthy lists of environmental issues. Looking ahead, however, is a set of multifaceted, diffuse, long-term environmental problems indicating immense consequences for the economic well being and security of nations throughout the world, including our own ….”(State of the Environment: 1987, page xxxix).

As to rational environmental targets for the United States, by the year 2000 all passenger automobiles should achieve 40 miles per gallon using cleaner fuels. Discharges of toxic pollutants into the air and water must be cut in half. With few exceptions our cities should be in conformity with ozone standards, and 95% of rivers and streams should be ecologically alive. Further degradation of groundwater must be capped, and chemicals used for farming should be reduced by more than fifty percent.

Within manufacturing industries, technologies which lessen waste and ease recycling should replace scrubbers and filters as the key means of attacking pollution. Indeed, efficiency of plant operations is identical with pollution prevention. Leaking valves, wasted electricity, and discarded but important metals and organic chemical residues don’t make sense—economically or environmentally.

While economic disparities among countries will endure, all countries can contribute to reducing the global pollution burden, to conserving the genetic richness of the flora and fauna, and to temper the pressures on the natural resource base. By the year 2010 the United States should have shifted significant financial resources from the Pentagon to foreign aid programs for resource maintenance and pollution control. These activities should displace the Strategic Defense Initiative and mobile missiles in the national security debates in Washington. We should respond to new challenges to our security with our pocketbooks. At the same time, international cooperation in offensive environmental problems can build trust and confidence amongst countries which have been sorely lacking during the second half of the twentieth century.

As part of the policy strategy, a survey on the environmental fate and toxicological information should be conducted for industrial chemicals (the results can then serve as a potential guide to policy-makers in developing countries when reviewing chemical usage in their respective societies). To illustrate the dimension of chemical misuse, it is noted that chemicals such as DDT (a bio-accumulative cancer-causing chemical and reproductive toxin) are believed to have been used as a crude ‘aid’ by some local fishermen in fishing from village streams in some places in certain developing countries (Biatiwuec, A., Wojnowska-Baryta, I. & Hasso-Agopsowicz, M. 2003). Also, it has been noted that in some other similar situations, indigenous people have caught fish by pouring an insecticide containing lindane (a highly poisonous chemical with serious health risks) into surface waters, and even when the contamination became apparent, absurd as it might sound they believed simply cutting off a fish’s head made it safe to eat. Appropriate evaluations should help bring about a renewed focus on such issues so that governments of these countries can re-examine general exposure of their populations to toxic chemicals. Ultimately, and ideally, it is necessary to control all chemical and infectious wastes and/or materials entering the environment, so as to prevent or limit potential adverse health effects and environmental impacts (Hester, R. E. & Harrison, R. M. 2002).

In sum, Americans have no choice but to pay now or pay presently for their long-term survival. Actions or inactions during the years will settle on the costs during the next century. The environmental debt is accruing, and the price tag for healing America’s chemical wounds rises every year.

Work Cited

  • Biatiwuec, A., Wojnowska-Baryta, I. & Hasso-Agopsowicz, M. (2003), Effectiveness of leachate disposal by the young willow sprouts Salix amygdalina, Waste Management and Research, 21, 557-566
  • Borzelleca J. 2001. The art, the science and the seduction of toxicology. An evolutionary development. In: Principles and Methods of Toxicology (Hayes A, ed). London:Taylor and Francis, 1-22.
  • Carpenter D, Arcaro K, Spink D. 2002. Understanding the human health effects of chemical mixtures. Environ Health Perspect 110(suppl 1):2,5-42.
  • Dembo, D. 1989. “Bhopal: Settlement or Sellout?” Global Pesticide Monitor 1.
  • Dinham, B. 1989. “Where Paraquat Starts: ICI and the United Kingdom.” Journal of Pesticide Reform 9: 22-3.
  • Doull J. 2001. Toxicology comes of age. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol 41:1-21.
  • Elliot S, Eyles J, DeLuca P. 2001. Mapping health in the Great Lakes areas of concern: a user-friendly tool for policy and decision makers. Environ Health Perspect 109(suppl 6): 817-826.
  • Freeman, H.M. and Harris, E.F. (eds) (2004) Hazardous Waste Remediation:Innovative Treatment Technologies, Technomic Publishing, Lancaster, Pa.
  • Hester, R. E. & Harrison, R. M. (Ed.) (2002), Environmental and Health Impact of Solid Waste Management Activities, The Royal Society of chemistry
  • State of the Environment: A View toward the Nineties, A Report of the Conservation Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1987, page xxxix.
  • Zach, A., Binner, E. & Muna, L. (2000), Improvement of municipal solid waste quality for landfilling by mechanical-biological pretreatment, Waste Management and Research, 18, 25-32

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