Essay on General Electric and the Hudson River Cleanup

4 pages
929 words
Carnegie Mellon University
Type of paper: 
Case study
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Over the years, the plants of General Electrical (GE) along the Hudson River disposed of not less than 1.3 million pounds of harmful substances known as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into the river before the banning of PCBs in 1977. Going forward, the enormous amounts of the PCBs have led to the prohibition of the consumption of fish from the river and the shutdown of businesses and recreational areas along the waterway. These bans have been imposed mostly because the PCBs are considered to be cancer-causing agents on human beings and also affect the immune system. PCBs in the waterway residue additionally influence fish and wildlife. Due to this contamination, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. gave General Electric Company the responsibility of directing an investigation of the pollution in the Hudson River. The evaluated estimation of this examination work was $20.5 million. In addition to examining the polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pollution of the Hudson River, GE was to conduct clean-up activities. In this paper, the ethical issues that arose from the case of GE and the Hudson River cleanup are discussed.

Ethics demands that individuals and organizations do whatever that is right even though they are likely not to benefit from it. The ethical issues that arose from the case of GE and the Hudson River cleanup are related to the safety of the environment, wildlife, and human life, and negligence of conducting ones duties as it is required by law. These issues included unusual discharge of contaminated industrial wastes into the Hudson River and GEs refusal to perform its ethical obligation by taking responsibility for the contamination of the Hudson River inherently cleaning it. Additionally, moral issues with regards to the EPA making performance standards that would favor GE, and GE lobbying EPA to alter the criteria for which the pollution level of the river can be determined arose from the case. Another ethical issue is the controversy about the risks associated with the release of PCBs on human health.

The GE Company disposed of its raw contaminated wastes without prior treatment in a river which was used by the community for drinking water, fishing, and other recreational activities. It was ethically wrong for GE because they had never determined whether the wastes they were releasing were safe for human beings and the aquatic animals. For any industry to discharge its waste into the environment, it is ethical that investigations of the risks of the discharged wastes be done first. This issue also raises the concern as to why EPA came to ban disposal PCBs into the river at a very late period when the damage had already been done. It was an indication that the two organizations were not performing their duties well enough.

After GE was ordered to conduct a dredging activity to clean the Hudson River, they did not do it to completion. It is unethical for General Electric to be resistant in helping with the Hudson River Cleanup. Despite the fact that the organization confessed to dumping PCB contaminants in the waterway, they were exceptionally reluctant to focus on a plan to clean it up. They overlooked the way that the issue affected families and organizations. They cared less about the dilapidating conditions for purchasers. Furthermore, marine and natural life creatures were at risk. Morally, the group is ethically wrong for not settling an issue that it specifically caused. Regardless of how valuable the process of dredging would be, GE had a moral commitment to clean the river. Their choice to abstain from focusing on finishing the clean-up was not right, and considering the adverse social effects the waste could have are both real issues.

In cultural ethics, individuals are required to help the communities that are surrounding them by doing what is right. Cultural ethics, therefore, arises because GE is needed to offer support to the communities it brought harm to. Additionally, virtue ethics where one is required to lead by example occurs in this study. People believed that GE would do the right thing by fixing the problem that resulted from their actions. Thus, GE is likely to lose the trust of its customers if it does not go back and finish up in the process of dredging the Hudson River.

The controversies about the harm PCBs have on human health bring a lot of confusion. Even after scientific investigations were done and it was confirmed that PCBs are harmful to human health, individuals still defy these warnings and offer contrary opinions to the benefit of another organization. This act should be considered unethical because human and animal lives should not be gambled with to the benefit of corporations. The claim of GE personnel that PCBs are not carcinogenic and that they have been working with them with no harm brought to their health is irrelevant. Just because they have not yet started experiencing the signs and symptoms is not an indication that they are healthy.

In conclusion, with regards to this case; it would be best for GE to work hand in hand with the EPA to decontaminate the toxic 40-mile stretch of the Hudson River. It could be achieved if both organizations engaged in a discussion of discourse ethics and figured out a practical approach to solving the contamination problem. By reaching a collective agreement with EPA, GE will be able to put the developed plan into action without resorting to going to courts appeal against the EPA. Lastly, the removal of PCBs through dredging would be an appropriate thing for GE to do as it is required of them.

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