prepared by Douglas Allchin


Ford Motor Company operates a large production and painting facility in St. Paul, Minnesota (above). Originally sited on the outskirts of town, the plant is now surrounded by a densely populated residential-commercial neighborhood, Highland Park (left). The plant produces trucks. It also produces waste and air pollution. The proximity of manufacturer and community in this case highlights a general problem: how do we reconcile our coupled desires for manufactured products that enhance our lives and for an environment where we can enjoy a healthy life?

Auto/truck paint might seems an unlikely source of problems, but it is typical of many "simple" manufacturing processes. In this case, paint is sprayed and the exhaust from the spray booths can contain small particles of paint that are dangerous to breathe. Pollution control equipment can help manage this--at a cost, reflected in the price of each vehicle. In addition, applying paint typically involves organic solvents that are also dangerous. An effective ventilation system can protect the workers inside the plant--but this merely moves the problem outside to the community (see nearby bike and jogging path, right). The challenge of controlling this type of pollution emission is even more difficult--and equally costly. How do we balance our goals of painted vehicles that withstand rust, low cost and a safe living environment?

As we enter the scene in 1989, community residents have been complaining for some time about noxious odors. More recently, they have voiced concerns over emissions of air toxics. Ford is now applying to the state to renew the plant's operating permit, reissued every 5 years. The permit will specify allowable emissions. The state has assembled a task force, with representatives from Ford, the community, the state pollution control agency and other stakeholder interests, to consider the case and make its recommendations.

This web site provides more information about this case, photos and a map of the neighborhood. You can consider the questions that need to be resolved and possibly assume the role of one stakeholder involved in making a decision (buttons below).

Now . . . YOU DECIDE !!

What does it mean to be a "good neighbor"?
The Ford Plant (stack in distance) borders a senior-citizen high rise (left)--on land donated by Ford.







This case study is based on a real case and real data. However, numbers on Ford's costs were estimated and other facts have been changed to make the case more complete and suitable for a discussion on ethical responsibilities. The profiles on the Task Force members, in particular, are fictitious.

This case study was adapted from Elizabeth L. Henderson, "Broad Based Task Force Approach to Community Air Toxics Concerns and Permitting Issues: A Case Study," presented at the International Conference of Air and Wte Management, Vancouver, B.C., June 1991; supplemented by interviews with the author.