|Lead dust in air in the containment room|
The Case Controversy
Gopher Resources’ factory in Tampa was found to have hazardous chemicals such as lead, cadmium, and inorganic arsenic in the factory’s air and dust around said factory. While the news of this may have just recently come to light, the abundance of these chemicals has been there for years. The factory itself is the site of breaking down old car batteries and turning them into new metals that can be recycled; however, the chemicals in the batteries contain lead, which leads to the high amount of lead in the air and lead in the dust in the factory (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). Lead is such a problem because “lead is a neurotoxin that accumulates in bone for decades and can cause damage to many systems in the body…No level of exposure is considered safe,” (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). The pictures that have been released show the abundance of the dust in the factory, piles and piles of hazardous dust that gets so bad that the workers cannot see ahead of them when driving machinery. The levels of lead “…in the Tampa factory’s air were often hundreds of times the federal limit” (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021). Along with how bad the lead in the air was, Gopher shut down the ventilation system and the employees’ respirators that would help protect them from the lead were “faced an air-lead concentration 15 times beyond what his respirator could guard against,” (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021). Some employees have even passed away from issues like heart attacks that were due to the high levels of lead in employees’ bodies. The exposure does not stop there as many employees are bringing home lead poisoning to their families from the dust on their bodies accumulated from the factory.
Lead poisoning causes serious health problems, whether it be long-term exposure or short-term exposure. According to the CDC, the body absorbs higher levels of lead when it’s breathed in. Short-term lead exposure can cause anemia, kidney and brain damage, and weakness. Prolonged exposure to lead can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, and reduced fertility. Pregnant women exposed to lead means that their unborn child is also exposed and at risk. Similarly, parents who accidentally bring home lead-contaminated clothing put their children at risk for lead poisoning. Lead poisoning not only impacts the person who is directly exposed, but the people in close contact with them as well.
Gopher’s actions also came with severe environmental effects. Due to the company’s lack of safety standards and protections, the community around the factory was also affected by the toxins from the plant. On one occasion, the company estimated that “more than 250 pounds of lead spewed into the neighborhood” (Johnson, Woolington and Murray, 2021). The Tampa Gopher Resources factory is located within half a mile of an elementary school, meaning that numerous children were exposed to the poison, not to mention the people living in the area (Johnson, Woolington and Murray, 2021).
|Furnace as seen through fumes|
These conditions were overlooked by OSHA inspectors which allowed the problem to worsen over the span of five years (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). With a prompt from the Tampa Bay Times, OSHA began to investigate Gopher’s factory and came away from the investigation with 44 violations, one being a willful citation which “that citation alone — OSHA’s most serious — carries a $136,532 fine,” (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021). All the fines total more than $319,000 (OSHA, 2021). While OSHA is now issuing these fines and investigating the issues at the factory, they were not always so helpful. In 2014, OSHA visited the factory and began their inspection. Still, they focused on all the wrong areas, avoiding those linked with exposure to lead and other chemicals and not even looking at the ventilation system. OSHA also gave the company a heads up before they came to do the inspection, which allowed for Gopher to clean up any big messes and make the factory look cleaner than it was, which allowed for their ill-practices to continue after federal inspection (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). Regulators from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration haven't visited the facility for lead pollution since 2014, and prior visits missed severe issues.
The company themselves is not innocent in this controversy either, as they were willfully allowing these toxins to be in the air and the factory. They have received the OSHA citations and have said that they will be working on some of them while completely disagreeing with others. Gopher Resources can keep a factory clean. They own another factory in Minnesota, and employees have said that “The floors were so clean, they joked, you could eat off them.” (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021) The level of lead in the air at the Minnesota factory is also six times less than that of the factory in Tampa. This shows that Gopher knows how to keep a factory clean, which is evident in the difference between the two factories. Gopher is also trying to lie and cover-up about the levels of lead in employees’ blood by bribing employees with bonuses for those who could lower their lead in their blood, which resulted in some employees donating contaminated blood and hanging up names of those who couldn’t lower their levels in break rooms. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Gopher knew that their employees’ blood levels were terrible and was trying to cover it up by asking to decrease their levels. When OSHA came to investigate, Gopher led investigators to look into another chemical that needed to be looked into and saw that there was no reason to worry about sulfuric acid when the actual chemical that was one of the ones causing problems was sulfur dioxide.
This controversy is still going on. Tampa Bay Times and their team investigators are working hard to approach this case from all angles and bring in as much information as possible. They were the ones who prompted the investigation in the first place and are working to continue to get more of the issue with Gopher Resources to light.
The COO of Gopher Resources, Eric Robinson, has been talking to Tampa Bay Times in reference to OSHA citations and how they are going to look after some while still maintaining the idea that the company is upholding environmental standards. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Angela Fogarty is the Tampa factory’s safety and environmental manager. Dr. Bruce Bohnker is the company’s doctor who has misled multiple employees with lead levels in their blood and cleared them for further work. (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021) Numerous employees have come forward who have complications due to lead and the other chemicals in the factory. Eric Autery was one of the employees who had a high lead level in their bloodstream. Prospere Dumeus was a worker who worked at the plant for 32 years as; he was fired because he couldn’t lift more than 30 pounds because of the open-heart surgery he had because of the complications with lead. Dumeus passed away at the age of 52. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Eric Telemaque had an increased blood pressure from the time he started working at the factory, having a blood pressure reading that would send someone to the hospital. The company doctor cleared him to work, and a short time later, he suffered from at least three strokes and now sways when he stands. Teddy Ebanks Jr. was working in toxic fumes, and one day the fumes went through his respirator, and he passed out. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Ko Brown is suing Gopher Resources because he alleges that Gopher allowed him to bring home toxic fumes to his son, who was only an infant when he first showed signs of lead in his blood. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) OHSA employees have also allowed these toxins to remain in the factory for years. The area director for OSHA who has signed off on the citations given to the Gopher Resources factory is Danelle Jindra. She is backing up the statement that Gopher is harming their employees saying, “This employer put their bottom line above the safety and well-being of their workers,” (Neal, 2021). Lizbeth Troche was one of the inspectors for OSHA and looked into Gopher. She inspected the wrong chemical and found no issues. Olja Correa was another inspector from OSHA who came to look at the factory. She came to test air monitoring; the lead levels were reported to be hundreds of times the federal limit. The chemical cadmium was also reported at hundreds of times the federal limit. Her notes from the inspection are sparse, and that it is unclear if she walked through the room that held these chemicals, and OSHA did not confirm or deny that she did walk in that room for the inspection. She also recorded the lead level in the air, and she underreported what Gopher had in their records and did not look or inspect the ventilation system. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Linette Pruna-Padilla visited the factory a month later to inspect air monitor performance. Again, the inspection went askew in that Pruna-Padilla only checked outside and skipped the inside areas with elevated sulfur dioxide levels. Because the limits were low outside, she did not issue a citation. (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021) Along with employees, others are advocating for employee’s health and safety. “Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, and Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, co-signed a letter Wednesday to U.S. Secretary of Labor Martin J. Walsh.” (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021) These two representatives are urging the labor department to act and provide employees with testing for health issues that could be related to the problems in the plant. They are speaking up publicly and reaching a broad audience with their supporters.
An individualist would see this situation as unethical. According to individualism, the only goal of a business is to profit. Hence, the sole obligation that the businessperson has is to maximize profit for the owner or stockholders within the law. Friedman said, “The responsibility [of the business owner] is to conduct the business by their [the employers'] desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to the basic rules of society, both those embodied in the law and those embodied in ethical custom” (DesJardins, 55). To decide if the situation is unethical, it needs to be broken down into questions; is the action maximizing profits, and are there any laws that prohibit this action?
To answer the first question, this action is maximizing profits. In March 2018, Gopher Resources was acquired by Energy Capital Partners, a private equity firm based in New Jersey. This means that in March 2018, Gopher Resource joined ECP’s portfolio. ECP is a private equity firm, which means it is not publicly listed or traded. ECP is dedicated to the investigation of North America’s energy infrastructure. Considering ECP did not stop investing in Gopher Resources, profits are being maximized. They are still getting investment funds, and work at the factory was still being done efficiently, considering fifty- thousand batteries were still being recycled.
To answer the second question, there were laws prohibiting this action. That is clear because Gopher Resources was fined $319,000 for their violations. The company had fifteen business days from receiving its citations and penalties to fix the issues and comply. Some violations included toxin exposure above the permissible limit, broken respirator, and damaged equipment. They were also cited for “not implementing adequate engineering and work practice controls to prevent lead and inorganic arsenic exposure levels above the permissible exposure limit” (OSHA News Release Region 4, 2021) and for letting the workers wear respirators that were not tested annually. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 says that “employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace for their employees” (OSHA News Release Region 4, 2021). The U.S Department of Labor found that Gopher Resources willingly exposed workers to unsafe airborne lead levels. Their actions are illegal, and therefore, unethical.
A utilitarian would view Gopher’s violation of safety standards to be unethical. Utilitarianism determines whether an action is ethical by analyzing the consequences of that act and “is typically identified with the policy of ‘maximizing the overall good’” (DesJardins, 2020). This means that the goal of a utilitarian is to make the most significant number of people happy, therefore maximizing happiness (DesJardins, 2020). In the case of Gopher Resources, happiness was not maximized for most of the stakeholders, as follows;
Upper Management- Upper management will ultimately not benefit from this case, as many will probably lose their jobs, and the company must pay heavy fines. Although they initially saved money on respirators, machinery, and other safety equipment, which would increase their happiness, the consequences of their actions will have far-reaching impacts on the company and their lives. Because of these violations, Gopher Resources must now pay the money they saved to update, replace, and upgrade neglected safety equipment and machinery, making these savings moot. Further, they must now pay heavy fines above $300,000, putting them further behind and decreasing happiness. Finally, the decrease in their Moody’s rating resulting from this scandal has made it more expensive for Gopher to borrow money, both presently and for the foreseeable future. All of these factors combine and decrease happiness for upper management.
Shareholders- In this controversy, shareholders will be negatively impacted by the actions taken by the company. As a result of the scandal, Moody’s decreased the credit score of Gopher from a “high risk” investment to a “very high risk” investment (Woolington, Murray and Johnson, 2021). This means that investors are at a higher risk of losing money on their investments, decreasing their overall happiness.
Employees- The actions of Gopher Resources will hurt employees. The neglect of safety standards has caused many health issues in employees that will persist for the rest of their lives, decreasing happiness. The lead inhaled by the workers causes far-reaching health effects, such as heart ailments, kidney disease, infertility, cognitive disabilities, and more (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). Lead also settles into the bones of those exposed, meaning that the poison never leaves the body (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). These ailments caused by safety failure at the Tampa factory will decrease the quality of life for these workers, decreasing happiness.
Families of employees- The families of Gopher’s employees will be negatively impacted by the lack of safety standards because their health will be affected by the lead dust brought home on employees’ clothes (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). During their investigation, the Tampa Bay Times found the blood-lead levels of the children of Gopher employees to be elevated to alarming rates, even in infants (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). In children, lead can lead to similar health effects as seen in adults, affecting cognitive development (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). This means that the employee’s families must bear the emotional and financial burden of incurably ill children, therefore decreasing their happiness. Families may also have to deal with the death of workers due to lead exposure, burdening them with the death of a loved one, the financial burden of medical and funeral expenses, and the financial burden of losing a source of income, which all act to decrease happiness.
|Mounds of lead dust in baghouse|
The neighborhood of the factory- The immediate area surrounding the factory will be negatively affected by Gopher’s actions. Lead often escaped the factory and infiltrated the community, including an elementary school, only half a mile from the factory (Woolington, Johnson, and Murray, 2021). This means that the adverse health effects were spread to people surrounding the factory without knowing the cause. This decreases happiness because people now must face the health effects and medical costs of lead exposure.
Gopher’s actions were unethical from a utilitarian’s perspective because not a single party would ultimately be happy with the outcome. Gopher Resources disregarded the long-term effects of their actions in favor of short-term profit, ultimately costing the company and decreasing the happiness of all affected parties.
This ethical theory requires individuals to always act in a manner that honors and respects others and their decisions. Established upon honesty, it asks that people don’t lie, cheat, deceive, harm, or use others to their advantage, regardless of the favorable outcomes that may ensue. Instead, it encourages that all parties should express their informed and rational consent. Kantianism makes decisions based on “Good Will” rather than consequences. Possessing a Good Will implies that individuals have good intentions and utilize sound thinking to achieve their good purposes.
Kantianism evaluations are determined by “1. the moral permissibility of the action, and 2. The moral worth in the motivation of action” (Salazar, 21). Actions’ moral permissibility is established by determining if they’re rational. A specific action is determined logical and permissible if it fulfills particular criteria that illustrate respect for individuals’ rationality and autonomy who are impacted by the action. Producing good decisions is a result of respecting individuals’ freedom and rationality. To help individuals reason correctly, Kant employed several formulations of what he called the Categorical Imperative. If an action violates the Categorical Imperative test, then it is impermissible, and consequently, it should be avoided. On the other hand, if it passes, the action is permissible or morally acceptable.
The Formula of Humanity is the most intuitive version of the Categorical Imperative, which asserts that using people as a method to obtain what one wants is unacceptable. To be precise, the Formula of Humanity states, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your person or the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as means" (Kant, MM 429). Using someone as a means to an end exploits them as it ignores their rationality and freedom. It entails an attempt to devices and manipulate them, representing wrong motivation and therefore acting wrongly. Conversely, an action that has the right motivation also has positive moral value. Motivations can be based on self-interest, character of sympathy, and duty or moral law. Even if individuals don't do anything harmful with neutral actions, they can't earn credit for acting morally. In other words, they only receive moral credit for actions performed with good intention.
Gopher knew its plants had too much lead dust, so it turned off ventilation devices that caught pollutants and took its time fixing mechanical issues. In doing so, workers were exposed because they were using respirators that could not keep them safe as toxin levels rose, which the company was aware of. In 2019, one worker was exposed to an air-lead concentration 15 times higher than his respirator could handle (Department of Labor, 2021). When examining this case under the ethical theory of Kantianism, it indicates that Gopher used workers as a means to an end, motivated by reaching their business goal. This, according to Kantianism, is an impermissible action since it ignores the employees' rationality. Furthermore, the intention that the company was motivated by was to reach their business goal selfishly.
Gopher was obligated by federal law to conduct monthly exams, but the company-contracted doctor neglected to notify workers that their blood lead levels were dangerous. He authorized individuals to return to work when they had health concerns that might have been caused by lead exposure. It was Dr. Bruce Bohnker's responsibility to ensure that personnel could safely do their duties. When workers whose files were seen by the Times had levels of more than 20 micrograms per deciliter or even 30 micrograms per deciliter, Bohnker did not imply in his medical views that their health was in peril. Instead, he left a box next to "in range where harmful health consequences may occur" on the paperwork unchecked (Johnson, Woolington, and Murray, 2021).
Gopher Recourse’s actions are impermissible since they don’t pass the Categorical Imperative and its Formula of Humanity as it used its employees as a means to an end. To elaborate, by contracting with the doctor, Gopher completely abandoned its duty to its employees and disregarded their health and safety. The report by OSHA with the 44 violations indicated that one of the violations was "willful," which was failing to provide proper respirators to workers in four distinct departments who were exposed to excessive levels of lead (Department of Labor, 2021). This means that Gopher intentionally used, harmed, and deceived workers, exploiting them for their services. When examined under Kantianism, this doesn’t respect the workers’ autonomy (who are impacted by the company’s actions, or lack of it, to be precise). With that, the company didn’t consider the workers’ rational consent, which is what Kantianism encourages of all parties.
Virtue theory is one of the many ethical theories used when evaluating people and their actions. Virtue theory focuses more on the person’s character than their actions. The character traits that enable us to function well in society are honesty, temperance, courage, and justice/fairness. These traits are virtues that will help decide whether someone is moral, as in morality is defined by virtue theory, if they have all of the main four virtues, they are moral people. A good person uses rationality to function well and get along with people in society. There are more virtues than the main four, but the main four are cardinal virtues which are the virtues of character. In the case of Gopher Resources, there is the examination of not only the company’s virtues but the employees’ virtues as well.
The first virtue, honesty, is where Gopher was not honest with the levels of lead in the air and knew that it was dangerous to be ingested. The doctor who works for the company cleared employees to work after coming to him about health issues and misled them into thinking they were completely healthy (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). On the other hand, in this case, the employees are being honest; they are telling their firsthand reports about what happens in the factory. OSHA was also not being honest at the beginning of their inspections as they reported the wrong chemicals and looked at places that would have less of the chemical they were inspecting. Their reports showed less of said chemical (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). The second virtue is temperance which is having reasonable expectations and desires as well as not pushing people too hard, which Gopher failed at as well. They had unreasonable expectations for their employees to get the lead levels in their blood down, which resulted in employees taking drastic measures to do so. Gopher was giving bonuses to those who could and blackmailing those who could not get their levels down, even though the methods used to get lead levels down could harm other people, such as donating contaminated blood (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). Gopher is having employees work in terrible conditions, expecting to have respirators that don’t block out the chemicals because the levels are too high, working covered in dust, even where they eat. These expectations that are put onto employees for a living wage are unreasonable (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). On the other hand, employees do not have unreasonable expectations. All the employees are trying to do is get the unjustified expectations put upon them to stop having a healthier and safer workplace.
Courage, in the sense of virtue theory, is standing up for the right things. The employees, in this case, are the ones who are trying to stand up and call out Gopher for their mistreatment and how they are now affected for life with these chemicals. Through first-person testimony, these employees had the courage to talk with news sources and talk about their experiences which will hopefully lead to change since others are also standing up for the changing of these laws (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). Representatives who have gotten news of this story also exhibit courage as they are standing up for these employees’ health and wellbeing. Multiple representatives have come forward and are fighting for the employees to be treated fairly and are taking their health into consideration (Johnson, Woolington, Murray, 2021). Gopher Resources is not standing up for the right thing; they lack the virtue of courage. They are willfully doing things that are harming their employees and are not putting a stand to end the contamination or to lessen it. The company itself mainly focuses on the good that recycling the batteries can do for the environment but not how those batteries can harm their employees (Gopher Resources, 2021). The final virtue is justice or fairness, and again Gopher falls short. Tampa’s factory is not the only one that they own; their other factory in Minnesota is very clean (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). It is not fair for Gopher to only treat a certain factory’s employees better than the other when it is known that they can treat them better and keep them from harm and healthy. Employees are the ones that are trying to achieve fairness, along again with representatives. Employees are trying their best to achieve fairness and justice by talking about their experiences and trying to work toward better conditions as it directly affects them. One employee is suing the company and trying to achieve justice because of the toxins that he brought home with him (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). Representatives are also trying to achieve justice as they are trying to make laws become more updated to make workplace conditions better for employees (Woolington, Johnson, Murray, 2021). The overall verdict regarding Gopher Resources is that they do not display any of the main cardinal virtues, while the employees and others who are on the employees’ side do display all four of these virtues.
leading to a spike in sulfur dioxide in the air
The current issue in the Tampa factory is that employees are being exposed to hazardous chemicals and that Gopher is not taking proper precautions to prevent it. We have a step-by-step resolution to help solve this issue, listed here:
1. Fix the ventilation system and provide appropriate protective equipment
2. Implement policies and practices used at the Minnesota branch, including clean lunch rooms and working decontamination rooms
3. Keep building clean and work toward having clean workstations
4. Find a qualified Doctor to perform proper tests, be transparent with employees, and give accurate information to employees
5. Hire safety experts and form a small team who will look after safety precautions and employee health
6. Talk to Tampa Bay Times and other media outlets and inform them how they are working toward better practices
Gopher Resources’ mission statement states, “At Gopher Resource, our mission is to deliver clean, reliable, high-quality environmental solutions through trusted partnerships with our employees and communities to create the best experience for our customers.” On the other hand, our mission statement states, we are striving to create more safety regulations for employees by providing adequate equipment that will endure the hazardous chemicals and will not need to be replaced as frequently, as well as vowing to continue to provide clean, reliable, high-quality environmental solutions. This differs from their mission statement because we address employee health and safety, which is an important factor in keeping the company successful.
The core values for Gopher Resources are as follows: how we conceive what these mean.
- Transparency- Gopher should make sure that employers do not withhold information regarding health and safety from their employees, customers, and the public.
- Accountability- Gopher should become more accountable with how they treat their employees as well as being more responsible for their actions and, by doing so, make their company more reliable.
- Employee safety - Gopher should ensure that they give their employees proper and working protective equipment to prevent long-term health issues for them and their families.
- Sustainability- Gopher should continue with their previous goal of recycling lead from used batteries in order to reduce the amount of waste affecting the environment.
- Continuous improvement- Gopher should be working toward improving their processes through incremental improvements.
We will ensure ethical productivity by hiring safety experts and a new doctor to help keep employees healthy. Using these experts could make sure that the company remains ethical by keeping employee safety in mind. The company would be changing its policies to mimic the Minnesota branch, where employees are treated better, allowing for more ethical productivity. With employees working in a more healthy and safe fashion, they will be more productive and will be doing so in an ethical way.
Our plan will help promote business profits by preventing future OSHA fines and preventing future employee lawsuits. Our plan also helps conform to our core values because one of the key aspects of the mission statement is to provide clean and healthy environmental solutions to customers. The other core values lead to treating employees more ethically and fairly.
Gianna Biolo, Cailey Bennett, Tabarek Al-Kowami, Jo-Anne Muldoon
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