Report Contract Award
(Note: This is a fictitious letter
written for instructional purposes.)
Dear Madam or Sir:
This letter formalizes the award of a
[fictitious] contract between your company and the United States Senate for the
production of a technology assessment report to be made available online
no later than 11 pm EDT on Friday, April 22nd, 2011. We have requested your
four groups each provide us with an objective and well-researched technology assessment.
The title of the report by each of these groups is to be as follows:
For the groups called EcoA and EcoB, each group is to
submit an original report titled:
"Current and Future Impacts of Cell Phones and
Their Networks on the Environment"
the groups called HumanA and HumanB, each group is to submit an original
"Current and Future Impacts of Cell Phones on
Human Health and Society"
In recent years, the use of cell phones and
the spread of cell phone towers seems to have skyrocketed. This technology
offers many advantages. However, it carries negative impacts both for the
physical environment and for human health.
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been gathered information and
comments concerning the problems posed by communications towers to migrating
songbirds since 2003 (See the filings associated with Proceeding 03-187,
FCC, 2011.) But what are the facts?
Have there been studies showing that the halo of light around a tower causes
bird deaths? And what are the other environmental impacts associated with
the construction, use, and maintenance of cell phone towers?
Furthermore, the manufacture and disposal of cell phones raises questions
concerning hazardous emissions. If cell phones and other e-waste is exported
to countries with lower environmental standards than the US, then we may be
promoting the poisoning of air, water, for those living and working near an
e-waste disposal/reclamation enterprise. What are the environmental hazards
posed by cell phones and other e-waste?
addition to these issues, your team should provide information on other
areas where there has been and will be a noted impact of cell phones and
cell phone network technology on the physical environment. We need the
facts. But we also need to see your analysis of the trends. If no additional
action is taken, what are the precise extents of environmental impacts you
would calculate for the foreseeable future?
Annette Rose and Jim
Flowers (2009) summarized several issues concerning cell phones as follows:
"According to Nielson Mobile (2008), a
“cord-cutting consumer trend” is rampant in the United States
with over 20.2 million U.S. households (17.1 %) replacing
traditional land lines with wireless phones. In 2007 there were
181.9 million cell phones sold in the US, a number that has
annually increased by 18.6% since 2000 (EPA,
"The age at which children are given cell phones
continues to slide downward, decreasing from 10.1 years in 2008
to 9.7 years old in 2009 (Blackshaw,
2009). Adolescents are
among the most active consumers: “the average 13-17 year old
sends more than 2,000 text messages per month” (Blackshaw,
and college students spend 2.4 hours a day using cellular
devices (Loechner, 2009). This raises questions as to the effect
of radiofrequency radiation on human health; the National
Toxicology Program (2009) is currently studying the effects of
cell phone radiation as a possible cause of brain tumors and
cancer, and due to report findings in 2014.
"The disposal and end-of-life management of cell
phones and other electronic devices raise a host of health and
environmental concerns. It was estimated that in 2007, 140.3
million cell phones were ready for end-of-life management (a
figure that has increased 29.4% per year since 2000), but of
these only 14 million cell phones (10%) were collected for
recycling (EPA, 2008). While many unused cell phones are stored
in a user’s home, many cell phones and other electronic waste
(E-waste) are discarded in the household waste stream and
eventually buried in municipal landfills. E-waste contains a
host of hazardous substances that can leach into groundwater
from landfills (Spalvins, Dubey, & Townsend,
2008). The results
of standardized leaching procedures with cell phones found the
elements Pb, Sb, Ni, Cu, and Cr in excess of Total Threshold
Limit Concentrations (California Department of Toxic Substances
Control, 2004). Similar concerns exist for plastic components
which have been treated with flame retardants.
"But even if cell phones reach a recycler, there
is a chance they may be illegally exported to another country
where sometimes poor practices used to extract precious metals
have lead to contamination of the air and water, and to workers
breathing toxic materials. One study found 43 US electronics
companies, some of which promoting their “exemplary
environmental practices,” were willing to export broken
cathode-ray tubes in apparent violation of the law (Stephenson,
2008, p. 2).
"Several of the toxins from E-waste may
bioaccumulate in animal tissues (Zhang, et al.,
2009). Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), one type of flame
retardant, were found in the muscles and other tissues of hens
foraging near an electronic waste stack in Taizhou, China, and
“PBDE congeners were persistent enough to accumulate through the
human food chain” (Shu-Xuan, et al.,
2008). Air pollution also
contains deadly toxins from E-waste, with levels of PBDEs in the
air “58 – 691 times higher” at a Guiya, China, electronic waste
recycling site where heating or burning E-waste released PBDEs
from plastics that contained brominated flame retardants than at
other urban sites (Deng, et al., 2007, Abstract). Ironically,
many of those responsible for placing E-waste into this waste
stream are unaware of these consequences."
Blackshaw, P. (2009,
November 2). A pocket guide to social media and kids.
of Toxic Substances Control. (2004). E-waste Report:
Determination of regulated elements in seven types of discarded
consumer electronic products. Retrieved from
Zheng, J., Bi, X., Fu, J., & Wong, M. (2007). Distribution of
PBDEs in air particles from an electronic waste recycling site
compared with Guangzhou and Hong Kong, South China.
Environment International, 33(8), 1063-1069.
Loechner, J. (2009,
November). Like, totally wired. Research Brief from the Center
for Media Research. MediaPostBLOGS. Retrieved from
National Toxicology Program. (2009). Cell
phone radiofrequency radiation studies. Retrieved from
Mobile. (2008, September). Call my cell: Wireless substitution
in the United States. Retrieved from
L., Qian, Z., Zhan-Fen, Q., Xing-Ru, Z., Zhong-Zhi, Y., & Xiao-Bai,
X. (2008). Levels and distribution of polybrominated
diphenylethers in various tissues of foraging hens from
electronic waste recycling area in South China.
Environmental Toxicology & Chemistry, 27(6),
E., Dubey, B., & Townsend, T. (2008). Impact of electronic waste
disposal on lead concentrations in landfill leachate.
Environmental Science & Technology, 42(19),
Stephenson, J. (2008).
Electronic waste: Harmful U.S. exports flow virtually
unrestricted because of minimal EPA enforcement and narrow
regulation. Washington, DC: US Government Accountability
Office (GAO-08-1166T). Retrieved from
Protection Agency. (2008, July). Electronics waste management
in the United States: Approach one. (EPA530-R-08-009). Retrieved
X., Yang, F., Luo, C., Wen, S., Zhang, X., & Xu, Y. (2009).
Bioaccumulative characteristics of hexabromocyclododecanes in
freshwater species from an electronic waste recycling area in
China. Chemosphere, 76(11),1572-1578. DOI:
But we need more information about
the facts related to the impacts of cell phones, their towers, etc., on the
environment and on both human health and our society. We are relying on your
report to identify those facts.
The US Congress
can take a variety of actions regarding this issue. We can enact legislation
regulating manufacturers' practices,
transportation regulations, export laws, consumer education, laws concerning pollution
and waste disposal, product labeling,
educational initiatives, research grants programs, and much more. We
regularly work with the US Federal Communications Commission, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the
Department of Health and Human Services in the executive branch. However, before we act, we request the very best
federal, legislative options from which we
may choose spelled out in
detail. These are difficult economic times, and the
Congress must make difficult choices to maximize the impact of every dollar
of federal spending. So for each of several alternative actions we might
take, we would want to know the projected economic and non-economic costs
and benefits several decades into the future.
A Senate Divided
Please be aware that not all members of our US Senate
Committees are in
agreement about this issue. In this case, we are not clearly
split along party lines. Even among those who believe there to
be a major problem here, the precise nature of that problem is
open to debate. Is it the impact of cell towers on migrating
species of wildlife, the radiation effects from cell phones on
human brains, the toxic waste we export that contaminates the
air, water, and land of those in other countries, the traffic
mortalities and accidents caused by distracted driving
facilitated by cell phones, the change in socialization habits
for today's children, or the vulnerability of data?
Others on our committees have suggested that there is no
problem requiring federal action, and where problems have been
suggested, those at the state or local level, including
manufacturers themselves, may be better positioned to take
action. Some have suggested that it is an issue of parenting.
Please keep in mind the
following requirements of our contract:
We expect your group's report to be a single, original HTML page,
professionally prepared, with hyperlinks, illustrations,
references in APA style, and many source citations when ideas
and information from reputable
authors are discussed. It must be free of copyright infringement and
plagiarism, and it should make good use of previously collected
data from reputable sources. Where the data is suspected of
being biased, please deal with it appropriately.
2. In general, please following the overall approach of a
technology assessment document as prepared by the US Office of
Technology Assessment, except for the deviations noted in this
3. After a thorough executive summary of the document,
please include a co-authored introductory chapter. Here, please
provide a detailed explanation the data on the impacts of cell
phone technology on either the environment or on human health
and society, depending on your group.
Provide trend information that might be available. Extrapolate
this information to predict the impacts of Congress taking a "do
4. Next, please include several additional chapters (with each
your team taking the lead authorship for a different chapter
here, with the author's name beneath the chapter title). Each of these chapters should outline a different (alternative) policy option
for action the US Congress can take to address this issue, and the implications of that option. Compare the
option you outline to the "do nothing" option. Each chapter's author should use several
technology assessment techniques, as appropriate. We are
particularly concerned how the new policy option and its
- change the risks posed to human health; and
- change the rate of environmental degradation
along with how much it would cost over the implementation period.
The choice of technology assessment techniques is yours, and could
include techniques such as economic cost-benefit analysis, risk assessment,
trend line extrapolation, and scenarios, but it
is essential that each of these chapters employ the most appropriate
technology assessment methods, and make good use of the best literature in
the field, with proper citation. Please provide a very clear description of
the methodology used, referring to the literature.
When your final report is posted on the Internet, please send an Email to my
representative, J. Flowers, indicating the location and authorship of this
report. (Dr. Flowers also noted that each author would be sending him a reflection
paper, whatever that means.)
(Note: This is a fictitious letter written for instructional purposes.)
Commission. (2011). Proceeding 03-187. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved
Rose, M. A., & Flowers, J.
C. (2009). EnviroTech II: Enhancing environmental and technological literacy
- An unpublished proposal to the Environmental Education Grants Program of
the US Environmental Protection Agency, EPA-EE-10-02.