Courses/environmental engineering

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Environmental Engineering

Three cases from the textbook "Engineering Ethics," 2nd Edition, by Charles B. Fleddermann (Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004) apply to environmental engineering. These are:

  • The Disaster at Bhopal (p. 40) — a maintenance failure at a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, leads to over 2,000 deaths and injuries to over 200,000 people.
  • The Aberdeen Three (p. 41) — three civilian manager's at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland were tried of illegally storing, treating, and disposing of hazardous waste.
  • The City of Albuquerque vs. Isleta Pueblo Water Case (p. 98) — to what standard must the city of Albuquerque treat its wastewater to make it suitable for use by the Isleta Pueblo?
The following geoenvironmental failure case studies are provided in pages 25 through 30 of Shepherd and Frost (1995):
  • Love Canal
  • Valley of the Drums
  • Stringfellow Acid Pits
  • Seymour Recycling Facility
  • Kettleman Hills Waste Landfill
The cases are summarized briefly below. Follow the links provided to see more complete case studies and references or see Shepherd and Frost (1995).

Love Canal

In the late 19th Century, William T. Love attempted to connect the upper and lower Niagara River by excavating a canal. The industrialist Love planned on using the canal to attract commerce and supply hydroelectric power to the Niagara Falls, New York Area. Construction of the canal halted after a section 3200 ft (1000 m) long, 80 ft (24 m) wide, and 20 ft (6 m) deep had been excavated due to a lack of financing. In 1942, the abandoned love canal was publicly auctioned by the Niagara Power and Development Company and purchased by Hooker Chemical and Plastic Company. The Hooker Chemical Company immediately started using the canal as a dumping site for hazardous industrial wastes. In all, the Hooker Chemical Company dumped 22,000 tons of industrial wastes which included pesticides such as lindane and DDT, multiple solvents, PCB’s, dioxin, and heavy metals. Once the metal drums that housed the wastes filled the canal, a layer of loose soil was used to cover the site. In 1953, the City of Niagara Falls purchased the canal property for $1 from the Hooker Chemical and Plastic Company. A residential development and school was built on the property soon after 1953. By the spring of 1978, 240 families of the industrial waste site were being evacuated due to the state of emergency that was declared by government. In 1980, another state of emergency was declared and 570 more families were evacuated from the area. Over half a billion dollars has been spent on removal of contaminated soil, placement of a clay cover, placement of a composite HDPE clay linear system, and cleaning sewer systems.

See Love Canal Tragedy, 1978 for more information.

Valley of the Drums

In 1967, the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (KDNREP) identified the Valley of the Drums site as an uncontrolled dump location for hazardous waste. The 13 acre property is located near the town of Brooks in Northern Bullitt County, Kentucky and was owned by the late A.L. Taylor until 1977. A KDNREP investigation of the property revealed that over 100,000 drums of waste was delivered to the site, of which 27,000 drums buried and the remaining containers discharged directly into pits and trenches. The hazardous wastes eventually made their way into a nearby creek by storm water runoff. In 1979, large amounts of contaminates were carried into the creek by the spring snow melts which caused the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to respond immediately. The EPA analyzed the property and creek and found high levels of heavy metal, polychlorinated biphenyl’s, and some 140 other chemical substances. In 1986 and 1987 the EPA took remedial action to contain the site from any further impact to the surrounding environment.

See Valley of the Drums, 1978 for more information.

Stringfellow Acid Pits

In southern California, 5 miles northwest of Riverside, the Stringfellow Quarry Company managed a state approved hazardous waste disposal facility during 1956 and 1972. The Stringfellow Quarry Company disposed 34 million gallons of industrial wastes into an unlined evaporation pond. The contaminants came from production of metal finishing, electroplating and DDT. Due to the pond being unlined, the waste leached into the underlying groundwater table and developed a 2 miles contaminated plume downstream. The Stringfellow Quarry Company voluntarily closed the site and the California Regional Water Quality Control Board declared the property a problem area. A policy was adopted to contain waste and keep any further migration of waste to a minimum. Between 1975 and 1980, 6.5 millions gallons of liquid waste and DDT contaminates were recovered. In 1980, the EPA recovered another 10 million gallons of hazardous waste form the groundwater. The disposal facility was claimed as California’s worst environmental hazards in 1983. Since 1983 the EPA required further concentrated effort to be taken at the site on 4 different occasions. About three quarters of a billion dollars has been spent for remedial action to date.

See Stringfellow Acid Pits, 1980 for more information.

Seymour Recycling Facility

Between 1970 and 1980, the Seymour Recycling Corporation, located 2 miles southwest of Seymour, Indiana, managed a 14 acre recycling center for industrial waste chemicals. Over the ten years of existence some 100 storage tanks and 50,000 drums of collected wastes were deposited at the recycling plant. Due to years of natural exposure and maintenance neglect the tanks and drums began to deteriorate and seep hazardous wastes into the soil and groundwater table below. In 1980, on-site fires and stifling odors caused 300 nearby residents to be evacuated away from the area temporarily and the recycling plant was closed. By 1984, the bulk of tanks and drums that were known to have caused the on-site fires were removed from the recycling property. Further remediation of the property involved construction an embankment around the site to control surface runoff, incineration of 200,000 gallons of flammable chemicals, the injection of 100,000 gallons of inert liquids into a deep well, and the removal of 30,000 cubic yards of drums, sludges, and contaminated soil to a hazardous waste landfill. In 1985 a plume was identified more than 400 ft off the recycling property and testing indicated that soil and groundwater contained heavy metals and organic phenols. The site was designated as the most serious environmental threat in Indiana and placed on the National Priorities List. To this day long term corrective action is being performed in the form of on-site incineration of contaminated soils, bioremediation, installation of a vapor extraction system, and installation of a pump and treat system.

Daphne Wassermann discusses two additional environmental case studies in "A selection of forensic engineering cases," pp. 133 - 140, in Forensic engineering: the investigation of Failures, edited by B. S. Neale, Thomas Telford, London, 2001. One concerns pollution produced when kerosene was used to clean out a tarry heavy fuel oil in an old tank. The lighter mixture leaked out into a stream. A second case concerns air pollution next to a waste incinerator with a malfunctioning wet scrubber, poisoning a nearby farmer's cows. She also briefly discusses poor performance of plants and processes.

See Seymour Recycling Facility, 1980 for more information.

Kettleman Hills Waste Landfill

In Kettleman City, California, a Class I hazardous-waste treatment-and-storage facility had been required for the 15 ha (36 acre) landfill. Upon the storage facility's completion, placement of solid hazardous waste began in early 1987. On March 19, 1988, after the waste pile reached a maximum height of about 27 m (90 ft) in Phase I-A with no prior indication of distress, a slope stability failure occurred with lateral displacements of the waste fill of up to 11 m (35 ft) and vertical settlement of the surface of the fill of up to 4 m (14 ft). Surface cracks, tears and displacements of the exposed portions of the liner system were also visible. It was found that failure had developed by sliding along interfaces within the composite, multilayered geosynthetic compacted clay liner system beneath the waste fill.

See Kettleman Hills Waste Landfill, 1988 for more information.

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