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The Cost of Telling the Truth

By Carl Koch


In their study of Leopold's Land Ethic and a modern application, students will use what they have learned to consider the dilemmas in a case study and will share their ideas for a solution using group discussion and individual answers.


Content: ethical dilemma case study involving illegal river dumping
Process: analysis
Product: group report, oral discussion and individual worksheet
Research: group discussion


The teacher will:
  1. review the different ethical systems;
  2. share an ethical dilemma for the students to read;
  3. guide students as they work in small groups;
  4. coordinate a class discussion of Part I;
  5. share the actual ending for the ethical dilemma;
  6. guide students as they individually complete Part II.


class handouts (three parts) "Ethical Dilemma", "Ethical Dilemma Worksheet: Part I" and "Part II".


regular classroom


Integrate multiple disciplines into an area of study. Develop productive, complex, abstract, and/or higher-level thinking skills.


So you're cruising in the car one sunny Saturday when the friend in the seat beside you suddenly says, "Did you see that article in the paper?" You immediately know what article. The one about the crime. "Well," your friend confides, "that was us." Your friend then spills a full confession. What do you do?". . .

August 1989. Chapter 1 of an environmental whodunit. The Chicago River Cyanide Caper. Dead fish by the thousands are found bobbing like bathtub ducks on the gray waters of the Chicago River. The city is shocked. Why did these fish meet their maker? And who would have guessed there were really fish in the Big Sludgy? An investigation begins.

A Saturday morning. Kate Koenig and Cheryl Emrich are driving to the Wisconsin State Fair. They are both single, in their late 20's, women in the male domain of hazardous-waste treatment. They have bonded. As they drive, Emrich, the environmental manager at P & H Plating Co., stuns Koenig by detailing events leading up to the fish kill. It started with a tank of cadmium and cyanide solution at the P & H plant on West Belmont. Instructed by her boss and boyfriend, Jeffrey Pytlarz, Emrich ordered a young worker to dump the solution down a floor drain. Koenig knew about companies that engage in bleeding, allowing pollutants to trickle into the sewers in such small amounts that they are hard to detect. This was worse. The P & H worker opened the tank valve wide. Within a couple of hours, 4,000 gallons of poison were riding toward the river.

Soon after, workers at the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District would notice something ominous in one of the sewage treatment plants: Bacteria used to decontaminate the sewage were dying. Tests showed that the villains were cadmium and cyanide. The plant, however, wasn't designed to remove those particular toxins, so the water district opened the gates, letting them flow into the North Shore shipping channel and the Chicago River. Before long, 20,000 dead fish belonging to 11 species were floating through town. Hmm, said the investigators. Cadmium and cyanide. Sounds like materials used at a metal finishing plant. But which one?

Sitting in the car that Saturday, Koenig held the answer.

"I said, 'Why did you do it?' "Koenig recalls. "She said, 'Everybody else does it." It really weighed heavy on me, to know that someone had the attitude that, 'We'll never get caught.' " On the following Monday, Koenig told a co-worker. He insisted she report it. She balked. "Cheryl will never speak to me again." He picked up the phone, dialed the Environmental Protection Agency and handed her the receiver.
----Certainly an ethical dilemma



Complete Part I as a group after you have reading the bioethical dilemma. Consider and discuss fully each member's ideas.

1) What are the facts?

2) Identify and define the ethical problem.

3) Who are the stakeholders in the decision?

4) What values can be brought to the decision?

5) What ethical system is being used by Cheryl Emrich?

6a) What options do you think are available to resolve this dilemma?

6b) Which options are the most compelling? Why?

7a) How would you (your group) resolve the dilemma?

7b) What values did you rely on to make your decision?


Three years later...
Pytlarz is sentenced to 15 months in federal prison. Emrich, now his wife, is given probation. Though Koenig's name has been kept secret through all the court proceedings, an EPA agent sent a letter on her behalf to the Chicago Metal Finishers.

Shortly after the fish kill, the Metal Finishers, a business fraternity, advertised a $10,000 reward. Theirs is a gritty industry, coating metal so it doesn't rust. Poisons are everywhere. They figured the reward would be good publicity for a business that doesn't get a lot. They hadn' t counted on the culprit being a prominent member of their group.What Kate Koenig did was to turn her friend in. Wednesday, in a small ceremony downtown, the members of the Chicago Metal Finishers Institute will give her $10,000 for doing so. It will be a bittersweet moment. In the name of a clean environment, Kate Koenig lost a friend. So did the metal finishers. When they offered the reward, they never dreamed that they would wind up giving it to someone who helped send one of their own to jail.

"We assumed it was some fly-by-night company that hauls this waste away for us," says George Gatto, a member of the reward committee. "We just couldn't imagine it was one of us. So it's kind of a confusing emotional deal to have to give this reward."

But they're gave it. Poison is poison and a promise is a promise. Koenig is now a vice president at a hazardous-waste consulting firm in Lombard. A few weeks ago, she says, Emrich asked her, "Why'd you turn a friend in?" Her answer wasn't original. Something about principle, about everybody having to play by the same rules. Even when it costs you a friend.

From The Chicago Tribune, Sept. 30, l992
"A friend is a cost of telling the truth" by Mary Schmich



Now that you have had a chance to discuss your responses to Part I with your classmates, consider the following questions after reading the rest of this story.

1) Have your answers to #6b and #7a changed? Why or why not? Is there anything you would like to change or add? If so, list those changes below.

2) List one value that you feel was reinforced by this bioethical dilemma.

3) List one value that you feel you gained from this bioethical discussion.

4) This dilemma primarily considers actions involving people. Should we consider the environment in this type of decision? Name some of the members of the river community who were affected by Cheryl Emrich's dumping decision.

5) Ethical decisions involve choices, often very tough choices. Although Kate Koenig had a difficult decision, she made the right choice. What ethical system do you feel she employed? Please, comment on her decision.

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