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DDT and Ethics Essay

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Paul Muller, a Swiss chemist and Nobel Prize winner was the one who discovered the DDT which was found to be very effective as a pesticide. In the 40s it was used in the agriculture sector to help kill crop-eating insects. From 1942 onwards it started being commercialized with big companies such as the Montrose Chemical Corporation at the frontline of this pioneering product. At first, the product proved to be quite a sensation drastically reducing the amount of malaria resulting in saving many lives.

It also had a huge impact in agriculture with its effective control on pests. Later on there were reports of DDT being harmful to the environment, people and animals. In fact, there was a book that was published by Rachel Carson entitled “Silent Spring” that outlined the dangers of the DDT. A year after the book was published, President John F Kennedy ordered a committee to investigate the book’s veracity and it was found to be accurate and that persistent toxic pesticides should be phased out as soon as possible.

What followed was DDT being banned from the public by government decree after conclusive research of how dangerous it is to the environment. The product was however still sold to other countries outside of the US for some time before some of the countries themselves decided to ban it.

The purpose of this report is to explore ethical issues and philosophies brought forth by some of the world’s ethicists and philosophers in an effort to advocate for the ban of DDT. Violation of Ethical Standards in manufacturing and selling DDT Any manufacturing business should have a code of ethics that should me more than just a set of rules set for its employees. It should go beyond the organization and be a set of rules that protects all its stakeholders and most importantly they must be enforceable. The Montrose Chemical Corporation did violate some of the ethical standards in the manufacturing and selling of DDT to the public as the case may suggest. It is evident in the case that the DDT has brought about many problems such as toxicity to some animals, cancer and spoilage of breast milk. Therefore, the company can be held responsible for the damage this has caused because they should have worked out the dangers and have predicted the risks involved for everyone’s sake. According to Environmental Protection Agency, the Montrose Chemical Corp used heavy amounts of chlorobenzene as a raw material for making DDT and this substance is in its innate form is non-aqueous meaning it remained in the ground and mixed with the other raw materials that resulted in making the groundwater in the area contaminated. Consequently, the surface soils around that area were found to be contaminated with DDT residues.

This is something that the company should have considered and anticipated. Also, the company did not demonstrate in any way health concerns by warning people about the dangers of usage even after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. Human life as well as animals’ should be valued and the manufacturing of DDT resulted in damages as serious as cancer based on some reports. Things Montrose Chemical Corporation should have done differently As part of their social responsibility, instead of rushing into getting as much DDT out for sale as quick as possible, the company should have paused and conducted enough preliminary research to really outline the potential dangers of this substance in the environment and also find alternative ways of fixing those problems without damaging the environment. Perhaps the company should have also provided training and education on usage so that consumers can take the right precautions when using for their benefit and for the benefit of the environment. Even after the risks started being talked about like in the book published by Rachel Carson, Montrose Chemical Corporation showed carelessness and no effort in trying to mitigate the problems caused by the result of their business’ existence.

They could have at least provided financial aid for the damage caused by this product and to protect life and environment from the effects. That would have shown some sense accountability. For example they could have helped develop fish farms around the area to help with the population and maintain the ecosystem. Effective Corporate Social Responsibility is a fundamental ethical code and its initiatives should look at issues that affect its stakeholders in the long run. So perhaps the company should have revisited their CSR objectives to really improve their planning on manufacturing and selling.

The Stakeholder theory coined by Edward Freeman and others argue that instead of starting a business and looking out into the world to see what ethical codes they need to be obligated to, they can begin in the world itself; they list out individuals and groups that will be affected by their operation and recognizes their right to participate in directing it. Also, the company could have been more transparent in their manufacturing operations. This might have prompted other researchers out there to point out DDTs disadvantages much sooner and do something about it. It had to take the government’s decree to ban it in order for them to stop their activities and if that was not there they would have presumably gone on with their business.

Environmental Protection Agency’s Ethicality

Even though DDT was not banned in other countries, it was still very unethical for the Montrose Chemical Company to go on selling this product to them. The Righteous moralist philosophy holds that multinational home standards are the right ones for companies to abide by in foreign countries. Ethical issues arise when environmental regulations in host nations are far much inferior to the ones in the home nation. At that point, all the dangerous effects of this product were proven and known yet they still carried on selling to people across the world. The reason it was banned in America was because of the hazardous effects it had overtime affecting people, animal life and the environment as a whole. With this information conclusive and very well documented, the company should have ceased manufacture and selling of this product not just in America but to all the other countries that were getting this product. Instead they knowingly continued manufacturing and selling, disregarding completely the dangers that other people are going to face.

It is also important to mention that even if the company did not know about the studies that revealed all the effects of DDT, they had a duty to be aware of it to avoid the carelessness that they ended up showing resulting in the harming of people, animals and the environment. They cannot simply ignore the dangers the people, animals and the environment are being put in even if it is beyond their borders. The Environmental Protection Agency had no choice but to ban the whole operation because the DDT had been proven to having caused damage to the environment and harm people and animals as well. Even though this probably meant many people losing their jobs, the ultimate damage that the company’s operation would have brought about would have been far more overwhelming. If they hadn’t done that, naturally the company, being a business might have gone on with the selling of DDT and that’s a possibility that is not worth the risk.

After all, at that point, they had not shown any signs of stopping anyway because in the ten years between the Silent Spring publication by Rachel Carson and when the EPA officially banned the use of DDT, business continued as usual in other countries continents such as Africa, Asia and Europe. Also, according to the EPA official website, the quick success of DDT as a pesticide and broad use in the United States and other countries resulted in many of the insect pest species mutating and developing a resistance to DDT and so finding new ways of dealing with the problems would be what’s next. In a nutshell, the EPA would have to be answerable to the damage caused in the environment and so this was the right step.

Muller’s award discussion

Muller’s award for his work on DDT should not be taken away from him because first and foremost, Muller had demonstrated a high level of understanding in chemistry and he did it in an honest way. For that alone he deserved the award because it is something remarkable in the field of Chemistry. In fact, his product helped solve many problems in Agriculture and even health care and so this is only more of a reason to celebrate his great work. He cannot be held responsible in any way for the misfortune DDT has brought about. His intention was good in that he was trying to find a way to protect human life from insect borne diseases. Many other advantages followed such as pest control in the agriculture sector. It was only when this product started being heavily commercialized did the problems of land pollution, toxicity and cancer came about.

How the discovery was used cannot be blamed on Muller. Prior to DDTs commercialization, Mueller did express his concerns about the inherent nature of DDT ; of how stable it is, meaning it would not be able to decompose harmlessly in the environment so from that, people should have been more careful at how they manufacture and sell DDT. Also, Muller did not take part in its commercialization that led to the environment’s deterioration. Therefore taking Muller’s award away from him would only be unfair and outrageous.

Saving lives versus environment risk

The ability to save lives is not worth the risk the environment has to be put in. From the case, it may seem that DDT is worth it as it helped control pests and saved a lot of lives but this is only a short termed and a smaller issue compared to the entire ecosystem in the long run. The utilitarian and the Kantian philosophy brought forth by David Hume and Jeremy Bentham argues that the moral worth of actions or practices is determined by the consequences.

If the effects are desirable then the actions are worth it. The continual disposal of DDT cumulatively resulted in cases such as cancer, contamination of soil and water; toxicity in milk and egg shells in birds not properly formed for birth. This in the long run disturbs the ecosystem which is essential for all life forms. The cancer only means more deaths and toxicity in milk could as well have the same result, poor health at the very least. Preserving the environment provides a more sustainable future for life and its maintenance.


In spite of all the credits that DDT probably deserves, the damage that the environment as a whole cumulatively ends up having makes further operations ethically unacceptable and not worth it. As a company with such activities, they have the responsibility to look after its stakeholders and the environment at large. Montrose Chemical Corporation was very careless about how they handled their manufacturing and selling of DDT and it ended up costing damage not only in the US but even in countries outside of the US. More research should have been done to anticipate this and more acts of accountability should have been shown to help mitigate the situation. By placing emphasis on ethical issues at every point in their manufacturing process, the company will ultimately do more good in the long run. A theory that was once proposed by Thomas Hobbes called the theory of social atomism states that individuals always act for their own selfish interests, and in the pristine state of man, there are no rights. This kind of attitude must be suppressed if there has to be any progress in protecting interests of stakeholders.

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