There’s Something in the Water…

LeCain describes three techno-fixes; transformational, relocational, and delaying. All resulted in environmental impacts. The first techno-fix focused on in the case study is the Ducktown smelter story. While toxic chemicals were being removed from the gas and turned into fertilizer, this relocational and transformational techno-fix was not without it’s environmental consequences. Farmers began to use more superphosphate to sustain the new phosphate fertilizer. This lead to algae and bacteria overwhelming lakes, ponds, and streams. “Wherever phosphate and other fertilizers have been widely used, considerable eutrophication of water systems has resulted” (LeCain, 142). He goes on to say how these techon-fixes branded “transformational” and “relocational” encourage engineers and scientists to view them as “environmental successes.” Since the toxic waste was moved elsewhere, it was somewhat out of sight out of mind. The engineers were working on improving technology with less emphasis on environmental preservation. I think this is where environmental engineering is going to be really important in the next few decades (I know it was just recently added as a major at MSU). Especially in the extraction industry, we need more people who regulate environmental impacts of these processes from within the companies.


We absolutely need copper if we are going to improve and sustain our current technology. However, this doesn’t nullify LeCain’s point. All he is really saying is that we can be doing a better job, and historically we haven’t been which has lead to a lot of costly consequences. For example, the livestock dying of arsenic from the copper mines and tree damage in Deer Lodge National Forest. LeCain is also clearly tying in how profit factors into the selection of a technological-fix. “…the members tended to support the Anaconda’s desire that any viable solution be an attractively profitable business proposition…” While the Anaconda solution details all three types of techno-fixes, it was hardly win for the environment or nearby residents. The arsenic has continued to leach into groundwater under Butte. LeCain makes his strongest statement of the studies which definitely resonates with me as someone who grew up in Montana: “The problems of that time and that place were met largely by shifting them to future generations and other places.” Ultimately his point with this passage is to regard environmental  techno-fixes with caution. Even when a fix has seemingly good intent, it should be heavily scrutinized under the context that a corporation may be benefiting more than the environment itself.

One thought on “There’s Something in the Water…”

  1. I like how you mentioned that any new solution to the ongoing environmental issues requires a monetary incentive to gain support. It brings a good point that the majority of the population will not protest for stricter environmental policies without a personal incentive. Examples include multiple incidents where farmers and landowners did not protest against the actions of nearby mines and smelters until it affected their own health or the health of livestock. Another example from the previous reading that stood out to me was when workers did protest against corporate mines they didn’t protest for safer work conditions or environmentally friendly solutions but instead protested for higher wages. I also liked your point towards the end that many solutions shifted the responsibility of pollution to either another place or to the future. Great post!

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