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Familiarizing the Unknown: Three Unusual Engineering Cases

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Ethics in different disciplines

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.710.1 - 22.710.16



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Paper Authors


Marilyn A. Dyrud Oregon Institute of Technology

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Marilyn Dyrud is a full Professor in the Communication Department at Oregon Institute of Technology and regularly teaches classes in business and technical writing, public speaking, rhetoric, and ethics; she is part of the faculty team for the Civil Engineering Department’s integrated senior project.

She is active in ASEE as a regular presenter, moderator, and paper reviewer; she has also served as her campus’ representative for 17 years, as chair of the Pacific Northwest Section, and as section newsletter editor. She was named an ASEE Fellow in 2008 and received the James H. McGraw Award in 2010. Currently, she serves on two division boards: Engineering Technology and Engineering Ethics.

In addition to ASEE, Marilyn is active in the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics and the Association for Business Communication, serving on the editorial boards of two journals and editing a teaching column for ABC’s pedagogical journal

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Familiarizing the Unknown: Three Unusual Engineering CasesAnyone who has taught engineering ethics is familiar with the litany of disasters typically included in aclass: the Challenger space shuttle explosion, the Bhopal gas leak, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the HyattRegency walkways collapse; more recently, the Columbia disaster, the Twin Towers collapse, and thenewest entry, the BP Gulf oil leak.While studying such “big” disasters certainly has its virtues, for the instructor integrating ethics in atechnical class, events with a smaller scope might prove more useful. To that end, this paper will givesnapshots of three lesser known incidents appropriate for an integrative approach: · Donora Fog (1948): Nestled in Pennsylvania’s Monongehela Valley, the small town of Donora was the site of a US Steel zinc plant, which belched noxious fluoride emissions that were trapped in the valley. On Halloween night, 1948, a temperature inversion resulted in a “death fog” covering the town for four days, leaving dozens dead and hundreds injured. US Steel denied all responsibility for the incident and actively colluded with the Public Health Service to cover up the incident. · Lake Peigneur (1980): Dubbed “the world’s weirdest engineering disaster,” the demise of Lake Peigneur in Louisiana was caused by a math error. Texaco, drilling for oil, accidentally drilled into a salt mine, creating a spectacular vortex that sucked in the drilling equipment, an island-- virtually everything in the lake--and spouting geysers up to 400’ high. Though no lives were lost, the environment was radically changed. · Sampoong Superstore (1995): Built originally as an office building in 1987, the Seoul structure underwent a number of structural changes demanded by its owner that resulted in its collapse, killing more than 500 of the average 40,000 daily customers. In fact, the changes were so egregious that had not so many people died, the structural history of the building reads like a comedy of errors.All three of these incidents were due to engineering error, attributed to a number of factors. This paperwill describe the events, explore the engineering and ethical problems/issues, and offer suggestions forclassroom usage.

Dyrud, M. A. (2011, June), Familiarizing the Unknown: Three Unusual Engineering Cases Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17991

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