Reducing Toxic Waste

Lecain argues that through the three classes of techno-fix, transformational, relocational, and delaying, the effects of the industry of mining are simply transferred from to the environment. Lecain explains that while engineers and scientists can create solutions to problems that result in everybody “winning”, the secondary effects are hardly ever considered. Thus, all parties involved at the first level of the issue can be satisfied, and nobody cares to consider those further down the line. Lecain illustrates this using two examples, the copper smelting issues in Ducktown, Georgia, and in the Deer Lodge Valley in Montana. In the case of the Deer Lodge Valley, Lecain provides details of a process that allowed the Anaconda Mining Company to reduce the amount of arsenic they were releasing into the air during smelting by using a new technology to extract arsenic from the smoke. Afterwards, the arsenic was transformed into a marketable product in the form of a pesticide, and then relocated to the South to be used by farmers. The third class of technological fix, delayed, came in the form of a treatment used on the timbers in the mines (147). The secondary effects of these fixes were felt by different areas and different eras. As the mine filled with water after its closing date, arsenic levels in the groundwater rose, resulting in damaged ecosystems in the Deer Lodge Valley. The effects were so dangerous that one town was evacuated. Lecain goes on to qualify his argument, explaining that the engineers responsible for the techno-fixes had good intentions and simply failed to see the long-term effects of their plans.

Although mining produces waste and environmental damage, it is naïve to think that we can simply stop mining and continue to live our modern lives. Many of the articles we have read have detailed the sheer amount of copper and other resources used during the industrialization of the United States in the early 1900’s. Imagine the amount of resources used today. I believe that Lecain does a fantastic job of framing the issue and giving us a perspective that allows us to step back and view issues and solutions at a high level. As I was reading, I imagined an ideal world, where there was no waste or damage to the environment. In this world, things like arsenic and sulfur-dioxide are reused and repurposed so effectively that everybody is happy, including the environment. The details of the issues in Ducktown and the Deer Lodge Valley show that we may enter a cycle of addressing one issue, only to create another issue. However, I believe that advances in technology and a growing movement to lower our environmental impact, we can eventually address all issues present in the cycle of producing resources.