Love Canal was used as a disposal site by Hooker Chemical Corp for more than 200 different hazardous chemical wastes. In 1953, Hooker sold it to Niagara Falls Board of Education (BoE) to get rid of the virtual wasteland. The land was developed despite of the buried chemicals beneath. Leaching of chemicals was discovered in 1978 and this has severely affected the health of residents in the area.
Should Hooker take the blame?
There were two actions taken by Hooker which played a major role in the chain event of Love Canal disaster: waste disposal and selling the land. Firstly, Hooker has conformed to the chemical waste disposal practice during that time which is through landfills. This disposal route was approved by state government and there were no controlling regulations regarding the safety and aftermath effect. Hooker was one of the leaders in industry safety and has claimed to be unfairly picked upon for the waste disposal practice. As an expertise and leader in the chemical industry, they could have strived for a better solution for waste disposal and help identify the loopholes in the existing regulations. From the approach of care ethics, responsibility shared by engineers included the respect for human life, sustainability of environment and contribution to engineering practice. Thus, engineers’ professional responsibility to the society is an integral part of the engineering process.
After being approached by BoE for land possession request, Hooker has released a letter agreeing to transfer ownership of the site to BoE in the form of donation. Hooker absolved them of any liability for future damages by writing a disclaimer which mentioned “injury, death or property damage arising from waste products”. From this statement, it is obvious that Hooker is aware of the possibility of serious consequences for developing the disposal site but they have decided to shift the responsibility to BoE. Appropriate actions should have been taken by Hooker to investigate any social consequences of the site even though Hooker has released its land ownership. Resultantly, Hooker has violated the freedom principle where it has deliberately brought harm to the community in Love Canal. The lack of consciousness to consequence showed that Hooker’s action could be judged by consequentialism where the worst case scenario has happened.
On the other hand, the action of BoE building a community at the site is considered morally acceptable from a utilitarian perspective because it resulted in the greatest happiness for the solid working-class community. This action has created many job opportunities for the community and hence many people were happy. BoE’s decision to sell the remaining land to the developer helped BoE to gain large amount of profit because they bought the land for only $1. Judging from consequentialism, this action has generated the best result for BoE.
To sum up, Hooker has done a bad decision by disposing the chemical waste in such practise. Although the incident happened after the change in land ownership, the source of consequence still originates from Hooker. Utilitarianism was not acceptable as freedom principle of not harming others has been violated. Care ethics was not showcased by Hooker as the waste disposal practise was obviously unsustainable.
Should Niagara Falls Board of Education (BoE) take the blame?
Ignorance of BoE towards Hooker’s warning and selling the remaining land to the developer to build a community were the other two reasons for the Love Canal disaster. Through multiple protests and warnings, Hooker has shown their concern about the land utilization even after the transfer of ownership. In November 1957, Hooker published public warnings in local newspapers about the potential risk of the land with full disclosure of its past use as a dumpsite. Despite the effects were repeatedly explained, all of Hooker’s efforts were unrecognised through dismissal from BoE.This means that BoE could have known about the danger to carry out development activities in Love Canal. Regardless of the “warning” given by Hooker about the chemical buried beneath the site, BoE built a school and sold the remaining land to developer which then built about 100 homes at the site. The construction work which caused chemical leakage has led to the Love Canal disaster.
From the perception of Kantian theory, any rational person should be able to determine what is morally correct through reasoning. The action of selling the land to the developer for building a community over the chemically covered land despite knowing the potential risk is not morally acceptable. This will lead to health problems and rip families out of their homes.
Furthermore, the homeowners were not given any warning indicating that their property was located near a chemical waste dump. Based on reciprocity principle, people should not be treated as mere means. This implies respect for people’s moral autonomy in making their own choices. The residents should be informed about the risks so that they can make an autonomous rational decision.
Looking at the matter from the perspective of Hooker, precautions were taken to seal the chemicals and warnings were provided to BoE. In this sense, Hooker has shown equality postulate by treating humanity with equal concern as a means to an end, though with no avail. However, some source claimed that BoE acquired the land by force through eminent domain, which might be the reason for the price of $1. In terms of categorical imperative such as obligatory rule, Hooker´s decision was purely abiding the law. Furthermore, Hooker’s decision of transferring the land ownership to BoE is to protect the company’s interest which reflects upon utilitarianism.
To conclude for this section, BoE’s decision has led to one of the worst engineering disaster of all time. This incident is caused by the ignorance of BoE which is judgeable from consequentialism. Despite the fact that BoE was not under any obligation to develop the Love Canal, this action has violated the maxim in Kantian theory at the same time. Therefore, it is rational to argue that BoE should take the responsibility for this incident.