moral dilemas are interesting. pollution, especially of rivers, is something i'm concerned about. i have been somewhat close to industrial pollution, especially while working in the industrial part of NW Portland. trying to understand the mind and motivations of someone in this position of control over a profitable company that pollutes is my goal.
lets say you are CEO of a company in NW portland that works with steel or inks or anything that creates toxic waste. the existing process pollutes the air and put polluted, posionous waste water into the sewage/drainage system. here are some assumptions: the system of the corporation "works" in that it makes money. that is your job as CEO, to keep the company profitable in the near term and beyond. as CEO you dont have an in-depth understanding of the chemical processes at your place. you know some toxic waste is produced and you know that for air pollution you have a "permit" to pollute to a certain amount.
now someone comes up to you, someone who is not a CEO or in a position of power in your usual framework of who is important and who isnt. this person says your company is polluting the air with a carcinogen called agent X. maybe that person is holding a sign across the street instead of speaking in person. you think there is some truth to the carcinogen claim and you're pretty sure that agent X is produced in some amount by the company's process.
since the system "works" in that it provides incomes for dozens of employees, including a healthy income for yourself, the primary motivator is to keep that system going. there are years of pride based on a self-identity with a successful CEO image. on your side is the DEQ, the thinking being if whatever the company is doing is "that bad", surely the DEQ would come down on them hard. They did an emissions test just last year!
at the same time, you wouldn't move your family into that part of town due to pollution fears. there are many 2nd world stories of chemical processing plants for instance, dumping waste into ground water and near by communities have a huge jump in cancer rates.
also at the same time, the effects of carcinogens build up in the body over decades and a direct causation can't be readily measured especially since other carcinogens exist from other man-made sources. there is little motivation to spend money on monitoring. can you imagine spending money to find out that there is a situation which could possibly end the profitability of the company for good? like a home owner who is trying to hide a leaky heating oil tank to the next buyer, just dont look at it becomes someone else's problem. thats a good situation for the government, representative of the people and not (in theory) profit driven, to do the investigation, and the company should pay for it.
the columbia river is a superfund site. my whole live ive been told the columbia and willamette are unclean and shouldnt be used for swimming, let alone for drinking. two hundred years ago, when lewis and clark were exploring the area, i imagine the awesome power of the columbia and its clean water. water is more valuable than petroleum and to think in two hundred years we've rendered the mightly columbia into a toxic stream. unsuitable for children to play in, residents to drink from, or fish to swim in (some of which get ingested by humans).
it happened because technology created a process where lead or plastic, etc could be created by the river and the end result was something valuable and the toxic materials going into the river were not measured or monitored. if its 1890 and north america is a wild, clean, natural place, someone might think: "who cares where it went? i dont know what it does, really, to put mercury into the water. the river is huge and whats the difference, (just dont live downstream heh.). this process is making me a fortune in the short term and im going to protect that." and it works for that person's career of 20-30 years. the result being their children learn over their lifetimes that the river is now dirty, unsafe, dangerous to animals and people alike.