chemical engineering ethics

CHE 320 Homework #2 – Canvas Submission

Answer each question in a short, typed paragraph or two. Your responses must be neatly typed, and free of major grammatical and spelling errors.  Be specific – points will be deducted for vague or incoherent answers, as well as spelling and grammar problems. It’s always a good idea to make it easy for instructors/supervisors to give you credit for your work!

  1. Case Study:  Amy West suffered severe lacerations (cuts) on her legs from flying glass, when a bottle of carbonated soda exploded in a grocery store. She claimed that she was reaching for a bottle of the same soda on a higher shelf, and that a bottle on the bottom shelf violently exploded, without warning. Amy is suing the grocery store and the soda manufacturer for damages and medical expenses for treatment of cuts caused by the exploding bottle.

Amy’s attorney, Martin Leonard, hired a chemical engineer, Dr. Dan Collins, P.E., to testify at the court trial.  During cross-examination, the opposing attorney asked Dan, “Wouldn’t a simultaneous explosion have left some broken glass and soda pop residue on the bottom shelf?”

Although Dan believes that a spontaneous explosion would certainly have left some glass and residue on the bottom shelf, he also knew from previous testimony that the soda residue was actually found only on the floor, and mostly a foot or two away from the base of the shelves.

What should Dan do?  Should he say, “Yes”?  Or, should he ask the other attorney if he meant to say “spontaneous”?  Perhaps Dan should respond in a way that would not provide the sort of answer which the opposing attorney is undoubtedly seeking?  Or is there another, better option?

  1. Dan is a P.E. and a member of the AIChE.  Look up the AIChE Code of Ethics on the Web, and identify (by the given letters) the two most relevant tenets of the Code that might provide Dan with guidance in his decision.  Clearly state how each of these two tenets should be interpreted when considering this situation.
  • How would you recommend Dan respond?  Specifically state the action you recommend, and justify your response, drawing guidance from the ethical tenets which you identified above.
  • During an oil refinery startup, it is discovered that a drain valve has become blocked on a large tank that is meant to hold a toxic and highly flammable solvent. The tank was left partially filled with water after cleaning, and a large quantity of solvent was charged into the tank before the water was noticed.  The water will damage the down-stream equipment, and so must be removed before the refinery can resume normal operations.  However, shutting the process down and draining the tank will take an entire day.  This will put the company behind schedule and result in lost profits.

    One of the process engineers that you supervise suggests a solution:  He says that he can loosen the bolts on the flange holding the blocked valve, and allow the water to drain out from the opened joint.  He will then tighten the bolts and re-seal the joint once the solvent starts coming out (see last page).  He claims that he has done this exact operation many times in the past, and has never had a problem.
  1. Apply the Precautionary Principle to analyze the situation using:
  2. A strong form of the PP, and
  3. A weak form of the PP.

Who are the stakeholders, and how might the proposed action impact them?

  • Rayvon Carter works for OmiChem, Inc.  Working in the OmiChem lab, Rayvon has invented a new process for making synthetic fibers which are simultaneously self-cleaning and antimicrobial.  Although others have invented similar products, Rayvon’s new process is significantly less expensive than existing methods, uses only environmentally-friendly chemicals, and produces less waste.  He is planning to create his own new company, which would manufacture and sell the fibers to manufacturers of active sports clothing and equipment.  One of the key methods in the new process was based on a description of a similar process in a research paper by Peter Dodson, which Rayvon ran across completely by accident a few years ago.
  1. Rayvon signed the standard HR paperwork when he joined OmiChem a few years ago, which included a clause that states that any intellectual property developed on the job belongs to OmiChem, Inc.  Who owns the invention of the new process?  Who has the legal rights to use or license that process?
  • Can Rayvon’s new process be patented?  Explain your reasoning, in terms of the three requirements for a patentable process.
  • Rayvon decides to pursue a patent on the new process (regardless of your answer to part b).  Should Rayvon include the Dodson paper in the prior art in his patent application?  Why or why not?  Explain your reasoning.
  • Can Rayvon ethically make and sell the new fibers out of his garage, without alerting OmiChem that he is doing so?  If not, what options does Rayvon have?
  • Read Whitbeck’s “Ethics as Design: Doing Justice to Moral Problems” (posted on Canvas).
  1. Explain the statement: “The advice to act only when one is certain is a license to avoid action.” Do chemical engineers have a moral and/or ethical duty to take corrective action if they become aware of a problem?  Describe a hypothetical workplace situation in which a failure to act, perhaps even to stop to collect more data, could cause serious harm or damage.  Suggest an action which could be taken immediately to limit the damage in that situation.

The flanged valve described in Problem 2 looks very similar to this one at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (http://photo.tepco.co.jp/en/date/2012/201201-e/120128-01e.html):

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