4 Engineering Ethics: An Industrial Perspective
instituting ethics policies and codes of conduct to address issues related
to unethical or illegal conduct. Although none of the other texts
mention SOX, I believe it will enable engineers to conduct their jobs in
an ethical manner.
We begin our discussion of how to determine our personal threshold for
action by examining the real world events that geodesic engineer Jack
Spadaro encountered. Spadaro was second in command of a team selected
by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to investigate a
coal slurry spill that occurred on October 11, 2000. Coal slurry refers to the
wastewater and impurities that result from coal washing and processing.
An embankment made of coarse coal refuse acts as a dam to contain the
slurry at a mining site. As sediment settles out of this mixture, filling the
pond, wastewater is recycled back into the coal washing process. The slurry
pit remains after mining operations cease.
During this disaster, a slurry pit in Inez, Kentucky, owned by a subsidiary
of Massey Energy, burst into subsurface mine shafts, flooding downstream
communities.This 300-million gallon spill was the largest in American history.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, it was the greatest
environmental catastrophe in the history of the eastern United States. Thick,
black, lava-like toxic sludge containing 60 poisonous chemicals choked and
sterilized 100 miles of rivers and creeks and poisoned the drinking water in
17 communities.
Spadaro, the former superintendent of the National Mine Health and
Safety Academy, where MSHA trains its engineers, is nationally recog-
nized for his slurry spill expertise, having spent 30 years studying slurry
dam failure and prevention. In the course of the team’s investigation, it
was discovered that mitigation of a spill at the same site in 1994 had been
misrepresented to the government (Kennedy, 2004). Mining officials had
stated that a solid coal barrier at least 70 to 80 feet wide between the
mine workings and the bottom of the reservoir existed, when in fact the
barrier was less than 20 feet.An engineer at the Massey subsidiary, Martin
County Coal, admitted he and the company knew another spill was
inevitable (Simon, 2004). Martin County Coal has stated that the slurry
spill was accidental.
Massey Energy is the fifth largest U.S. mining company, and a large
contributor to the Republican party. When the Bush administration took
over the White House in 2001, the MHSA team was given a smaller
scope of investigation, and was asked to complete its investigation in a
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