LeCain’s techno fixes and the cases of Ducktown and the Deer Lodge Valley

In his essay “When Everybody Wins Does the Environment Lose? The Environmental Techno-Fix in Twentieth-Century American Mining,” Timothy J. LeCain outlines what he believes to be the three categories that techno-fixes historically fall under: the transformational techno-fix, the relocational techno-fix, and the delaying techno-fix. In order to demonstrate the differences between these three types of techno-fixes, LeCain provides the cases of the Ducktown smelter in Tennessee–where a techno-fix was employed to convert sulfur dioxide gas into sulfuric acid for the purpose of reducing the high levels of toxic smoke in the air, and the case of the Washoe smelter in the Deer Lodge Valley of Montana, where a techno-fix was implemented to remove the large amounts of arsenic produced by the smelter. These case studies serve to illustrate how many techno-fixes fall under multiple of LeCain’s categories; the Ducktown fix was both transformational and relocational since sulfur was transformed into sulfuric acid and then sold as fertilizer, while LeCain considers the Washoe fix to be all three, as arsenic from the smelter smoke was transformed into a pesticide and relocated to southern cotton fields, where the arsenic in the pesticide slowly accumulated until it reached harmful levels.

Both of these case-studies–and most likely any other techno-fixes that one may choose to research–involved temporary solutions that simply diverted attention away from the mining companies, and instead led to a much more broad array of unforeseen problems for others. However, LeCain points out that while many of the mining engineers that masterminded these techno-fixes truly did hold the environment in high-regard, “there is no evidence to suggest [they] gave any serious thought to the secondary consequences of the captured and reused [pollutants]” (LeCain 150). This leads me to the conclusion that copper mining, and mining in general, can one day potentially be free of environmental damage if only engineers and mining companies had some incentive to research the secondary (and tertiary and beyond) effects of techno-fixes, and one day elevate these solutions above just a crude and temporary “fix.”

 

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