The radiation, after all, was not above government standards. If you were George, how would you handle this situation?
George Franklin works as an environmental engineer for Outdoor Compliance Associates. He and his team are responsible for writing formal reports called environmental impact statements (EISs) on sites that might be developed for housing or businesses. An EIS is required by the government before any work can begin. George’s responsibility on the team is to track down any historical uses of the site. For example, if he learns that a gas station had once been on the site, his job is to make sure the old underground holding tanks were removed. If the site once held a factory, his job is to make sure that chemicals had not been dumped in the area. George loves being an environmental detective. A year ago, George’s team had written an EIS for a site where a new apartment complex was planned. The site was about a mile from a major research university. While researching the site, George discovered that it had housed part of the city’s waste treatment center until the early 1950s. George’s discovery wasn’t a problem, though, because any contaminants would have disappeared long ago. So, George’s team wrote a favorable EIS, clearing the site for development. The building plan was approved by the city, and construction started soon after. Then, yesterday, an old, yellowed file mysteriously appeared in George’s office mailbox. The file was marked “Confidential” and had no return address. George looked inside. In the file was a report that nuclear weapons research had once been done at the university during the 1940s. Not recognizing the potential harm of the nuclear waste, the scientists had sent tons of radioactive waste down the drain. The nuclear waste ended up at the city’s old waste treatment center. The waste, including the nuclear waste, was then spread around the grounds of the waste treatment plant. George grabbed his Geiger counter and went out to the building site. The apartment development was now half built. When he pulled out his Geiger counter, it immediately began detecting significant levels of radiation. The radiation wasn’t high enough to violate government standards, but it was close. George knew that the building permit still would have been granted even if this site’s nuclear past had been known. However, he also knew that as soon as people heard about the radiation, no one would want to live in the apartments. That would be a disaster for the developer. If he reported the radiation, there was a good chance George’s company would be sued by the builder for missing this important problem with the property. Moreover, other builders would likely never again hire his company to write an EIS. George would almost certainly lose his job, and the company he worked for might be forced out of business. But then, he could keep it quiet. The radiation, after all, was not above government standards. If you were George, how would you handle this situation?
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