Risk Assessment, or Not, by Juror 6

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.