I was once at a environmental engineering conference, and casually asked a group of more experienced peers if they thought environmental engineering would ever disappear as a profession. After all, a lot of the sites I was working at were involved in (what we now know to be) hideous disposal practices. Now that we have a lot more regulations and knowledge, and given that we are moving into an information age from the manufacturing age, will we see a dropoff in environmental contamination?
The guys at the table laughed and assured me of humanity's ability to continue being a nasty citizen! And this 20/20 story shows that even in our information age, we deal with some pretty nasty chemicals. We may be exporting the problem to Third World countries, but I suspect a day will come when we will be not just ethically liable but legally liable for our passing the buck.
The issue of "green engineering" is a tricky one. Some companies like GE and Toyota are making big investments in a cleaner manufacturing process, in some cases saving substantial amounts of money. Indeed, GE's Jeff Immelt is a firm believer that the future marketplace will demand greener products, and has made big bets on the same. To me, this seems the way to go, rather than Europe's regulatory approach. The problem with Europe's apprach is that too many rules have killed entrepreneurship, and the last thing we need is the perception that environmental stewardship and economic growth are tradeoffs. If the Prius showed one thing, albeit on a relatively small scale, it is that green technology can present an extraordinary business opportunity.