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Defining Problems and Putting into Context

Free «Defining Problems and Putting into Context» Essay Sample


Framing a problem in the proper context involves two main things. First, the problem must be identified. The problem at hand is fear of increased air pollution that would arise if the Los Angeles harbor in San Pedro bay, California, is expanded. According to an exposure survey, toxic air contaminants emitted by diesel engines of marine vessels are considered to pose health problems such as worsened asthma and cancer (Multiple Air Toxic Exposure Study (MATES), 2000). This study confirms local citizens’ fears that expansion of the cargo port would elevate air pollution, thus exacerbating health problems.

The second element in framing a problem in a proper context is characterizing the problem. This requires defining the hazard and exposure of the problem. The hazard in this case revolves around health: asthma and heart problems. As to characterizing the exposure problem, different groups exposed to different risks are assessed. Humans are the most affected. Exposure comes in the form of consumption of contaminated fish, which harbors toxins that accumulate once a diesel spillage occurs. Marine flora and fauna are affected. Oil spills deplete oxygen in the area of spillage, killing marine life in the sea. (Jackson, 1989)

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‘Out of Context’ Exposure Problem

A problem may be considered in four different types of contexts. These are multi-source, multimedia, multi-risk, and multi-chemical contexts. If the exposure problem does not address any of the above four, then it is deemed to be ‘out of context’.

Then, the planning staff considers the air emission exposure problem out of context since none of the four contexts are clearly defined to characterize the exposure problem. The staff claims negligible specific air emissions attributed to the expansion of the port. Considering the multisource context, it is true that marine vessels are not the only source of particulate matter emission that would pose health hazards. Power plants, vehicles, and refineries are other sources of air emissions. However, it has been noted that ships’ diesel engines constitute the greatest threat in terms of air pollution (Saraçoğlu, Deniz, & Kılıç, 2013). With this notion in mind, expansion of the cargo port would then elevate air pollution since marine vessels contribute more than other sources of particulate matter. Besides, shortening of the idling time of ships after expansion of the port would not reduce air pollution, but maintain or even elevate current levels of air pollution. This follows the previous fact that marine vessels pollute the air more so that the only way air pollution is reduced is if the cargo port is left un-expanded while idling ships’ time is reduced.

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Multimedia context is the other aspect not characterized by the planning staff. Pollution is not restricted to particulate matter, but also involves water pollution. Water pollution arises from waste disposal by marine vessels that kill marine life and cause human health problems. The greatest threats to water contamination are bilge, antifouling additives, and storm water runoffs. Human health problems arise from consuming fish contaminated with toxins (Jackson, 1989). Other than waste disposal, toxic ship coatings may cause death of marine species. They are released slowly when ships are at the sea, thus proving a need to evaluate the risk posed by these coatings.

As per multi-chemical evaluation of the problem, chemicals emitted may interact, i.e. emissions may interact to pose an overall additive risk. An example is ozone. This is a gas produced when benzene and nitrous oxide react in sunlight, which is corrosive to bronchial airways. Ozone is also linked to cancer and birth defects (Mitchell, 2001). This is clearly not defined by the planning staff.

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Considering the multi-risk context, relative risks of various sources of pollution are assessed. Since air pollution caused by cargo ships supersedes other sources of air pollution, e.g. power plants, refineries, etc., expansion of the port area would significantly raise air pollution levels around the port area. Thus, health hazards such as asthma would be greatly increased in the port area rather than near refineries or power plants (Saraçoğlu, Deniz, & Kılıç, 2013). This is also not defined by the planning staff in evaluating the exposure problem.

Response to the Problems

The planning staff of the port or harbor cannot deal appropriately with the menace of pollution in that area. Their idea of using greener alternative fuels is welcome. However, shortening of the ship idling time at the port after expansion may not reduce air pollution. Expanding the port area means more ships, thus more particulate matter emissions, so that even when reducing idling time, the two would cancel out and maintain air pollution levels. The practical way of reducing air pollution is shortening of idling time of ships while not expanding the port area. Moreover, the fact that the staff organizing the port expansion has overlooked the pollution in the port area makes them underdogs in solving the problem of pollution in the ports.

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I believe that the local or state health department should be at the forefront in managing the issue at hand.

The state health department passes laws that limit air pollution. They may conduct health effects assessments of toxic air contaminants and if risks outweigh benefits of expanding the port, then health should be given priority to business. The state agencies should give financial incentives to replace old marine vessels and regulate their limits of speed. They should charge more pay for ships that pollute environment the most to encourage ship owners to use low-sulfur diesel that tends to have minimal air emissions (Tao, Fairley, Kleeman, & Harley, 2013). Laws should be set to ban toxic chemical coatings on ships, as well as policies on other sources of air emissions should be enforced.

Engaging Stakeholders

A stakeholder is anyone who has a ‘stake’ in a project or is affected by a certain strategy. Stakeholders in this case are neighborhood residents in the port area, the planning staff, and regulatory agencies responsible for controlling contamination in the port area. It is crucial to understand positions of all stakeholders. This is because risk management decisions that are agreed after involving all parties tend to be effective and long-lasting (Reed, 2008).

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Solutions are effective since every party brings its expertise, ideas, and solutions on how to tackle the problem and a filtering process of all ideas to reach the best idea is worked out. The best decision comes about by all parties listening and understanding each other so that the most workable decision is made. Solutions are also durable because parties involved are likely to accept a decision that they have helped to shape up. Time is also saved in the process when all stakeholders are involved. This avoids legal battles that are dragged in courts by stakeholders that feel reasonably ignored in the process.

Regulating Emissions of Diesel Trucks

The problem of controlling air emissions by heavy commercial trucks has made it difficult for the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles to control total air emissions at the port area. Diesel truck emissions at the port area are the second highest contributor to air emissions at the port area after marine vessels emissions. There is a double duty to control both and since recently controlling diesel truck emissions has received much attention, marine vessels emissions have taken a back seat in this respect.


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