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testicular cancer has resulted in a 91% remission rate and annual savings of $166 million.27


Advances in our understanding of the environment have led to better systems to promote human health and the health of our planet. Weather satellites, global positioning systems, and airborne-particle measurement technologies also have helped us to monitor and mitigate unexpected environmental problems. Unfortunately, some of these problems have been the consequence of unexpected side-effects of technological advances. Fortunately, in many cases additional technological understanding was able to overcome unintended consequences without forfeiting the underlying benefits.

Water Quality

Early in the 20th century, when indoor plumbing was rare, wastewater often was dumped directly into streets and rivers. Waterborne diseases— cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, and diarrhea—were rampant and among the leading causes of death in the United States. Research and engineering for modern sewage treatment and consequent improvements in water quality have dramatically affected public and environmental health. Water-pollution controls have mitigated declines in wildlife populations, and research into wetlands and riparian habitats has informed the process of engineering water supplies for our population.

Automobiles and Gasoline

In the 1920s, engineers discovered that adding lead to gasoline caused it to burn more smoothly and improved the efficiency of engines. However, they did not predict the explosive growth of the automobile industry. The widespread use of leaded gasoline resulted in harmful concentrations of lead in the air,28 and by the 1970s the danger was apparent. New formulations developed by petrochemical researchers not requiring the use of lead


W. D. Nordhaus. The Health of Nations: The Contribution of Improved Health and Living Standards. New York: Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, 1999. Available at:; L. E. Rosenberg. “Exceptional Returns: The Economic Value of America’s Investment in Medical Research.” Research Enterprise 177(2000):368-371.


US Congress House of Representatives Committee on Science, 1998, p. 38.

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