Earn Ethic Credit in Modern Society

During the press conference, I was “honored” to have the role of Thomas Jacobus from Washington Aqueduct (WAD). Video recording is definitely not my favorite thing, as in the last semester I was already video-taped twice and felt so weird to watch myself on screen. The oppressive atmosphere during the mock press conference certainly did not made the whole situation easier. Being in Thomas’s shoes, I hold responsibility for all the lead-affected families living in Washington DC, but I could not plea guilty in front of the camera. This was really a struggling situation, my personal conscience wanted to take all my responsibilities, while the character himself tried to protect his company while ignoring the public interest. Luckily, this “torment” only lasted for 45 min, and I was released from the “hot seat” immediately after that.

As an engineering student in water/wastewater treatment, I’m astonished by Thomas’s action of rejecting both treatment strategies proposed by Jonathan (a EPA consultant). Thomas argued that adding phosphates as lead inhibitors would increase the cost for WAD while sharply increasing water pH could form calcium precipitates, which again created maintenance problem and more cost. Hence, no actions were taken after changing the disinfectant from chlorine to chloramine. This is quite confusing to me that, from his perspective, a potential health concern was not deemed as a much serious issue than an immediate economic cost. Thomas could actually sleep on this decision for over 3 years before whole things got revealed by Washington Post, and he did not even want to control the damage via immediate actions. This is really a heart-breaking incident for me, as all the people in charge had so many opportunities to reverse their wrong-doings. This DC Water Crisis would end differently by taking responsibilities and simple actions. How can these people climb to a high position with poor decision making skills and fundamental science knowledge?

As a graduate student, I feel like Virginia Tech offers lots of ethic classes, which is a good thing for us to know the professional code of conduct. For people in the industry and organizations, do they also have the chance to be educated with or exposed to ethics regularly? As we students are dealing with hypothetical problems, the latter are making decisions everyday that can affect our lives. Their numbness in ethics, to me, is an invisible bomb to the whole society. Sometime I just wonder if we can provide the continuous courses and periodic evaluation of ethics to all the people in the society, at least as a reminder for its importance, and those who fail should attend a compulsory workshop to regain “ethic credits”. By earning the ethic credits throughout the career, every citizen can be a part of building not only a prosperous society, but also a healthier and harmonious one.

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