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Three high-level civilian chemical engineering managers who neglected glaring issues in their Pilot Plant

Three high-level civilian chemical engineering managers who neglected
glaring issues in their Pilot Plant

Key Facts about the case
• Who: Three high-level civilian chemical engineering managers who neglected
glaring issues in their Pilot Plant
• What: the three engineers were indicted for a criminal felony, tried and
convicted of illegally handling, storing, and disposing of hazardous wastes in
violation of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
• Where: Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland; U.S. Army Facility where
chemical weapons are developed
• When: 1983-1986 with an indictment in 1989
Key Problems within the Plant
• flammable and cancer-causing substances left in the open
• chemicals that become lethal if mixed were kept in the same room
• drums of toxic substances were leaking.
• There were chemicals everywhere – misplaced, unlabeled or poorly contained.
• When part of the roof collapsed, smashing several chemical drums stored
below, no one cleaned up or moved the spilled substance and broken containers
for weeks
• Funds for the cleanup would not have even come out of the engineers’ budget.
Environmental Results
• External sulfuric acid tank leaked 200 gallons of acid into a nearby river (Canal
• Investigation found that chemical retaining dikes were unfit
• System designed to contain and treat hazardous chemicals was corroded and
leaking chemicals into the ground
• Main argument from “The Three” : their job description did not include
responsibility for specific environmental rules
• They were “just doing things the way they had always been done at the Pilot
Ethics involved in “The Aberdeen Three”
• Engineering Professionalism: Deficiency of this virtue. The engineers knew
intellectually what the RCRA specifies and what they could do to fix the
multiple issues, but also knowingly disregarded these. Can they say they have a
reasonable amount of wisdom if they still don’t do what a wise person would
do to fix the issue at hand? Excess professionalism makes one too stringent on
the rules
• Safety: Deficiency of this virtue. They did not take the safety of the workers
and the environment into consideration. Too much safety would make the
process not as efficient and might even stop production. Public health hazards
were in jeopardy
• Patience: Didn’t want to train new people to assess the situation, they did not
want to take the time to clean-up the situation, they did not want to make the
effort to find funds for the clean-up. Too much patience means that a product
Ethics involved in “The Aberdeen Three”
• Liberality: they are stingy because they are not willing to use funds in order to
clean up the waste. The Army would have given them funds to balance out
their budget in order to keep worker safety
• Loyalty: the managers were attempting to be loyal to their company by not
reporting a major issue within the plant but ended up by this same breath being
not loyal to their workers and the world they live in as environmental hazards
presented themselves later on

The “Three”
• Carl Gepp – Manager at the Pilot plant and answered to Lentz and Dee
• William Dee – Developed the binary chemical weapon. He headed the chemical
weapons development team.
• Robert Lentz – In charge of developing the processes that would be used to
manufacture chemical weapons
Key Dates
• 1976 – Congress passes the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
• September 17, 1985 – Acid tank leaks into Canal Creek.
• March 26, 1986 – Pilot Plant shut down.
• June 28, 1988 – Gepp, Dee, and Lentz indicted.
• January – February 1989 – Trial of the “Aberdeen Three”
• May 11, 1989 – “Aberdeen Three” each sentenced to 1000 hours of community
service and three years probation.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
• The purpose of the act was to provide technical and financial assistance for the
development of management plans and facilities for the recovery of energy and
other resources from discarded materials and for the safe disposal of discarded
materials, and to regulate the management of hazardous waste

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