Sulphur Stinks: The Harms of Techno-Fixes

In When Everybody Wins Does the Environment Lose? by LeCain he argues that techno-fixes used to solve environmental issues often end up hurting the environment in another way (137). He contends that there are three types of technological fixes used to handle issues. The three types are “1. the transformational techno-fix 2. the relocational techno-fix 3. the delaying techno-fix” (138). In the first case study, the transformational techno-fix and relocational techno-fix were applied when the state of Georgia sued the Tennessee Copper Company for polluting the air with sulfur dioxide gas. The company was able to transform the sulfur dioxide into sulfuric acid (140). After creating the sulfuric acid, the company sold the material to farmers who used it as superphosphate fertilizer and the material was relocated across North America and Europe (141). The problem with this techno-fix was the farmers overused the superphosphate fertilizer and the material leaked into local rivers and creeks which in turn leaked into lakes and ponds. The concentration of the sulfuric acid killed off lots of aquatic life (142). In the second case study high levels of arsenic from the Washoe copper smelter in Anaconda, MT killed off many animals and vegetation in the region (144). Fear of federal lawsuit lead the company to develop a techno-fix. The company used an electrostatic precipitator to remove large quantities of arsenic. The arsenic was transformed into pesticide and relocated to Southern cotton fields. The soil and water in the South was contaminated by arsenic which does not break down for a long time (148). The delayed techno-fix resulted from the arsenic left over from the closed smelter which is now leaking into water and air in the Butte and Anaconda areas which could make people sick (149).

The past few lectures and readings we have done have made me question whether mining for copper and other heavy metals is vital in the 21st Century. We have so much more information on the harmful effects mining has on the environment and organisms living near the mines. It appears we need to find better solutions than mining to prevent with these environmental issues. I agree with LeCain’s argument that techno-fixes tend to have more secondary problems associated with them than actual solutions. As LeCain argued techno-fixes were a move in the right step, but a new way to obtain energy and materials need to be researched (151).

2 thoughts on “Sulphur Stinks: The Harms of Techno-Fixes”

  1. I like your idea that at this point in our technology, we should be over mining. But the sad truth is that we are very dependent on mining. I think that one of the most dangerous things at this point is the exportation of mining. We’re exporting the pollution to countries with no labor laws or environmental laws. I think that perhaps a more ecological approach to technological fixes would be more effective than the type of reductionist technological fixes we’re used to. Nice job!

  2. Nice post! I think you gave a great summary of Lecain’s arguments and their relation to the case studies of Ducktown and the Deer Lodge Valley. In your second paragraph, you stated that you may no longer see mining as vital in the modern age. I am very curious about your stance on this issue. The amount of resources consumed in today’s world is astonishing. Thus, we need to continue mining in order to sustain our current lifestyles. Would you be willing to give up our modern commodities and relatively easy life (compared to the pre-mining era) for a complete shutdown of the mining industry? I personally do not think I could give up my lifestyle. However, I do agree that we need to look into alternative energy sources, as well as more efficient and less harmful ways to remove resources from the earth.

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