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Risk Assessment, or Not, by Juror 6

2010 August 16

By Larry Teller

It’s fascinating if sometimes confounding to see how people perceive health risks and then act on their beliefs, especially when there’s a big disparity in how rationally they deal with, or manage, varying risks. Take, for example, my experience these past few weeks while on jury duty, which I wouldn’t report to you if it weren’t so common.

Juries spend many hours together both in the courtroom and, unfortunately at least as long, in a jury room. With the way we’ve been more aware of contagious infections lately, I wasn’t surprised to see a fellow juror whip out, on day 1 (of 8 days—it was a murder trial) a bottle of spray disinfectant and shpritz the crowded jury room pretty thoroughly. “But why not?” I thought, “It wouldn’t hurt.” — until Juror 6 (real names weren’t used much for the duration) sprayed us for the third time that first day.

My amazement came three days and eight shpritzes later, when the judge was scheduling a recess. To accommodate them, she asked if there were any smokers among us—who would need a longer break to go outside, light up and return. Whose hand went up? Yes, Juror 6, our repeat germophobe. As my dear, generous mother would say, we’ve all got our mishigoss (nuttiness, nonsense).

On a much grander scale, EPA assesses and manages risk in setting standards, writing regulations and cleaning contamination. I’d like to hear from some remediation managers and on-scene coordinators about how they deal with the less rational among us who understand risk about as clearly as Juror 6.

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, many as a reservist, gave him a different look at government service.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. William H permalink
    August 16, 2010

    great post. Hopefully you took the opportunity to tactfully ask him/her what the point was and stated that smoking was way worse than any germies present.

  2. Lina-EPA permalink*
    August 16, 2010

    Loved the post. Parden my Yddish, but I guess all of us are a little meshugenah. Instead of shpritzing the air, J6 should have been cleaning tables, handrails, etc. with sanitzer

  3. Larry Teller permalink
    August 16, 2010

    Lena, A couple of us almost plotzed when J6 identified herself as a smoker. Your point is well taken about cleaning common surfaces, even moreso than the air. It hurts to see how common sense eludes so many people. Another of my mother’s favorite responses to odd behavior was “Go figure.” As I said, Mom was always generous with her comments, knowing none of us is perfect. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Larry

  4. Brenda permalink
    August 16, 2010

    I remember working with construction crews on a remediation project years ago. One gentleman was pretty wigged out that he had to go through a scanner before exiting the work area and have his tools scanned out for potential radiological contamination. Nothing was ever found, but he came to work one Monday and set off every detector just by walking by them. He had tests on his heart the prior Friday and had taken a radioisotope as a tracer. It was quite an enlightening experience for him and the rest of the crew to realize that medical radiation use can result in much higher doses than working on a remediation project.

  5. Matt permalink
    August 24, 2010

    EPA allowed us to clean PCB’s to < 1 ppm which meets the standards for a school yard. We our a hazardous waste TSDF. The state of California is now requiring more for no reason. Who understands Risk. Obviously not the state.

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