Anonymous Industrial Engineering Ethics Cases 193
spill. In its report, the hired consulting firm showed a map that did
not indicate hydrocarbon concentrations were present in the area of
the tank, even though monitor wells showed concentrations in this area.
The tank was located about 600 feet north of the school, with a water-
table elevation 8 feet higher than the water-table elevation of the
school. The gasoline station was located about 200 feet west of the
school, with a water-table elevation 2 feet higher than the water-table
elevation of the school. In both consultant and state reports, groundwa-
ter was noted to flow downgradient from the tank toward the school.
I was hired by the state to simulate groundwater contaminant move-
ment in the school area with a U.S. Geological Survey two-dimensional
solute transport model widely used in groundwater contamination stud-
ies. Even before conducting this analysis, I had reviewed all the data
acquired, and I agreed with my colleagues that the leaking tank was the
most likely source of contamination that caused the closing of the
The assumptions I used as inputs to the model were based on real
world conditions. Model analysis indicated that contamination leaking
from the tank could have migrated to near the southern end of the
school within about 16 months. In fact, about 16 months after the
assumed time for the leak, contamination was first detected in monitor-
ing wells just south of the school. My analysis implicated the tank, rather
than the gasoline station, as the source of contamination, and was
included in the state’s report. Both reports from the state and the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency concluded that the tank was the
source of contamination.
Eventually, after meeting with the governor of the state, the tank owner
accepted responsibility, and cleaned up about 20,000 gallons of unleaded
gasoline floating on top of shallow groundwater below the ground.
Cleanup was expected to take more than 20 years. The owner also agreed
to pay the costs for building a new school and for moving students to alter-
native classrooms until the building was completed. After a second con-
sulting firm independently reviewed the work of the first consulting firm,
the first firm lost its contract with the tank owner.
LOOKING BACK, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE
Nothing. The state asked me to conduct a groundwater analysis, which I
conducted to the best of my ability.
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