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1-5 Public Perceptions

The general public has great difficulty with the concept of acceptable risk. The major objection is due to the involuntary nature of acceptable risk. Chemical plant designers who specify the acceptable risk are assuming that these risks are satisfactory to the civilians living near the plant. Frequently these civilians are not aware that there is any risk at all.

The results of a public opinion survey on the hazards of chemicals are shown in Figure 1-5. This survey asked the participants if they would say chemicals do more good than harm, more harm than good, or about the same amount of each. The results show an almost even three-way split, with a small margin to those who considered the good and harm to be equal.

Figure 1-5

Figure 1-5 Results from a public opinion survey asking the question, "Would you say chemicals do more good than harm, more harm than good, or about the same amount of each?" Source: The Detroit News.

Some naturalists suggest eliminating chemical plant hazards by "returning to nature." One alternative, for example, is to eliminate synthetic fibers produced by chemicals and use natural fibers such as cotton. As suggested by Kletz,8 accident statistics demonstrate that this will result in a greater number of fatalities because the FAR for agriculture is higher.

Example 1-5.

List six different products produced by chemical engineers that are of significant benefit to mankind.

Solution

Penicillin, gasoline, synthetic rubber, paper, plastic, concrete.

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