Discuss about the Model of Science and Engineering Ethics Education.
The case is about the contamination of water around Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base near Newcastle. Expert reports indicate that even though the water looks clear and clean, it is brimming with noxious carcinogenic chemicals called perfluorooctance (PFOS) reportedly from Williamtown air base (Ray, 2016). Local residents and fishermen have been warned against consuming seafood such as prawn. Doing so could result to illnesses and ailments.
It is reported that the contamination is leaking from Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base, which is about three kilometers north of Fullerton Cove. The base is said to have used a fire-fighting foam called aqueous film-forming foam that contained PFOS and other toxic preflourinated compounds for more than 40 years from the 1970s to early 2000s (Ray, 2016). The area around the base has sandy soil and shallow groundwater, thus, Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) easily leaks off-base through soil and water. When in water, the chemical is indigested by prawn and other marine fish such as wild oysters, which are commercially harvested to provide human beings with food. For this reason, human beings are exposed to the harm of these chemicals, which bio-accumulate and may be harmful when they reach certain levels.
Historically, the same chemicals containing Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) and other toxic preflourinated compounds (PFCs) chemicals have been historically used in Teflon pans, scotch guard, food containers, and metal plating (NSW Environmental Protection Authority, 2017).. Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) is now considered possibly harmful to human beings, and its use is being discouraged in Australia. According to researchers, per-and poly-fluorinated alkyl substances and their sister compound per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are very stable and do not break down easily. It is reported that such chemicals are widely distributed in populations and ecosystems. With the contamination of the water around Williamtown, residents were given some precautionary advice. These included not using groundwater, borehole water, and surface water for cooking or drinking and not eating eggs or drinking milk produced in the advisory area (NSW Environmental Protection Authority, 2017).
Nonetheless, residents were allowed to consume fruit, vegetables, meat, and poultry produced in the advisory area, but at moderate levels. The reason for this precautionary advice is that it was difficult to ensure that produce in Williamtown area was not exposed to the PFAS migrating from the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base. Further, residents were warned against eating fish, prawn, and wild oysters caught in the investigation area. However, they were allowed to eat commercially harvested oysters. Local residents and fishermen who personally sourced and ate fish and seafood from the Hunter River Estuary, Fullerton Cove, and Tilligerry Creek were advised to limit the number of servings of individual species (NSW Environmental Protection Authority, 2017). To minimize exposure to the contamination, they were advised to source seafood from a variety of locations including the ocean and waterways outside the area of concern.
Environmental issues and problems are today experienced in many regions around the globe. The degree of the challenges and concerns, however, vary from one location to another as influenced by the density of a population besides is growth rate, the nature of and the existing technologies, the quality of the environmental units of the region, and the extent of the socio-economic development besides many others. To solve the environmental concerns and challenges that are generated by the dwellers, it would be of utmost importance to call on the attention of collaborative engagement of all involved stakeholders. In this context of the contamination of water around Williamtown, the primary stakeholders can mainly be grouped into three among them risk losers like the local dwellers and fishermen, perpetrators of risk who include the Williamtown Royal Australian Air Force base and finally risk managers who are tasked with the responsibility of combating or reducing the risk and are members of the NSW government and environmental units-the Environment Protection Authority, food safety units-Food Standards Australia New Zealand among others.
To begin with are risk losers. In the context of Williamtown water contamination, local residents and fishermen are the losers in the sense that the contamination has the worst impacts on them with regard to economy, health as well as social being and most probably their deeply held values. These groups mainly live around the investigation area, and their source of livelihood is adversely affected. Secondly are risk perpetrators, and these are the stakeholders that create the risk. In the case, the Williamtown air base is the risk perpetrator in the sense that it uses chemicals that leak thereby causing water contamination.
Finally are risk managers. In this case, the government of NSW and its relevant units are tasked with the responsibility of combating or reducing the risk and its impacts on the local dwellers and the environment. There are other relevant groups among them federal, state, and local regulators and personnel of environmental management besides those tasked with responsibilities of continuous monitoring and maintenance. The experts and investigators are also in this category.
Every aforementioned stakeholder engages in activities that either have the potential of fostering or worsening the already existing situation. This section will evaluate the actions of the various stakeholders based on various ethical theories namely utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, contractualism, and deontology.
To begin with are the actions of the risk losers, who are local residents and fishermen. Their engagements are mostly significant in fostering of a sustainable surrounding. It is advisable that this stakeholder group conducts itself in a manner that enhances the arrangement of the surrounding and the locals in ways that are least hurting in the social and economic perspectives. Their perfect way to behave can be explained based on the virtue ethics. The residents and the local fishermen, although being hurt already, should maintain morality and engage in ways that illustrate charity and benevolence (Melden, 2013).
Secondly are the perpetrators, the Williamtown air base. It is reported that operations at the airbase are resulting in the contamination after the chemicals leak off-base. The best way that the structure can assist control the scenario is through the utilization of other chemicals whose impacts are less devastating both the life and on the environment. The activities of the Williamtown airbase can best be described by the utilitarianism theory. The facility should ensure that it acts such that it brings maximum benefit to the highest possible population of people (Melden, 2013).
Finally are the risk managers who include the NSW government and its relevant units. These should intervene to ensure that the Williamtown air base seizes from taking part in activities which adverse impact the local society and environment. They should instead depend on the Kantianism ethical theory to enhance virtues that are which best fit them, as opposed to looking at the virtues as those that have good or admirable results and emotions (Melden, 2013).
A professional refers to an individual who has attained the level of profiency and is formally proved or certified by a professional body by the virtue of completing the required training or course of studies. This individual can therefore have his qualifications measured against the standards that have been set and if they are of equivalent value then he or she is declared a competent professional. The professional ethics on the other hand refers to the standards that are professionally accepted on the behaviour of a person in regard to the existing values and principles.
Regardless of the profession of an individual or the field that someone works in, the expected quality performance or success will be dependent on the ability of the workers and how they deal with the situations (Schmidt 2014). The fundamental requirement of any profession is basically good ethics. It is therefore the integral part of any meaningful success. Good ethics are usually maintained by being consistent with those principles that are meant to correct the moral conducts. For several reasons, the professional ethics are very important.
First, a good number of professionals have an advantage of being more informed than the people they render their services to. They are capable of making judgement while applying the skills before making the informed decisions especially in the situations in which the general public cannot since they have not acquired the necessary knowledge and skills. There is likelihood of this advantage being misused by these professionals themselves. A corresponding sense of professional integrity and responsibility is therefore needed to make professionals act in the best interest of the clients (Han 2015). This will ensure that the professional behaviour is up and nearly perfect besides providing the useful functions that aid in the identification of the moral risks and hazards and setting appropriate avoidance strategies.
Secondly, most of the professionals are known to be still inexperienced in their professional fields. The professional ethics therefore aims at passing the sieved wisdom to these young workers through provision of the proper guidance. It actually ensures that the laws of profession remain objective despite the emergence of the new technologies and therefore the responsibilities and best practices are kept intact.
The third importance of ethics is that it usually provides a countervailing power to the authorities’ power and this will enable each and every individual to act in accordance to the laid policies and the service charter of the organizations.
The professional ethics usually provides a saver grounds for the enforcement of the disciplinary actions on those whose go against or violate the standards of the ethics.
Several countries have set their own statutory regulations of the standards of professional ethics. In the England for example, there is a statutory body that governs the nursing practice and midwifery. Individuals that fail to comply with these standards are declared viable to convictions in the court of laws (Schmidt 2014). The part of the England ethical standard states that a mere member of the public who happens to be at the accident scene of the car crash should never be held responsible for failing to provide help to the victims of the crash. This is quidded by the fact that he or she may not give the appropriate emergency treatment needed at that particular moment. Their responsibility however extends to the attempts to get help for the victim including contacting the emergency rescue team only.
This limitation act is guided by the fact that they have insufficient relevant knowledge and skills that are required. However, a professional doctor with the relevant tools and equipment may be charged with negligence and being unethical should he fail to save the victim of the car crash. The consequences are attached to the practice or an act of the doctor who helps and makes the mistake that is considered a result of negligence (Sutkus 2012). A lay member of the public would only be charged with negligence offense for failing to act if there was nothing at all that was done. If in the cause of his attempt to help the victim a mistake happens that results into unintentional cause of death or more damage the he will enjoy the protection of the good Samaritan law.
In the engineering profession, the safety of the project will always take precedence over the cost of the project itself. This therefore means that safety standards should be met at whatever cost. An entrepreneur who has started an engineering project may seek certification from a professional engineer on the project that is unsafe. The qualified and very competent engineer with high ethical values will definitely refuse to certify the project on the moral grounds. This is a very good ethical practice. Another engineer with low moral values and greed for money may decide to certify the project on a condition that he is offered a bribe. This is a violation of the Kantian theory on the ethics. This theory prohibits the section of actions such as murder and theft regardless of the consequences which sometimes may include happiness (Pai 2013).
The rightness or the wrongness of the actions never depends on the consequences but should just fulfil the primary duty. The statement therefore focusses on the people and not their actions. An individual’s action is either wrong or right. He is morally upright or lacks the moral values. The basic information here is that an individual is good or bad depending on the motivation of their deeds and not the goodness of these activities. An individual who is perceived to be good is just because he or she is motivated by morality and to him the motivation is the key here. The moral worthiness only exists when one does something which is considered as the duty. The engineer who takes bribe will definitely lead to murder if the people using the building die.
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Ray, C. 2016, March 25. What’s happening to the water in Williamtown? The Sydney
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NSW Environmental Protection Authority, 2017, May 31. RAAF Williamtown contamination. NSW Environmental Protection Authority. Retrieved June 5, 2017 from https://www.epa.nsw.gov.au/mediainformation/williamtown.htm
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