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Risks and Benefits - Student Worksheet

Part A

For each situation listed below, describe a potential danger (something that could happen that would cause concern for public health). List at least two ways people or the environment could be injured and, if possible, at least one benefit that people or the environment could gain from it.

  • Transportation of a hazardous substance on highways near urban areas (see example below)

  • An old municipal and industrial dump that does not meet current design and safety standards

  • A large housing area built on an unknown hazardous waste site contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

  • Storage of gasoline in underground tanks at local gas stations

  • Travel by automobile

  • Travel by airplane

  • Cigarette smoke

  • Pesticides

  • A tornado

Transportation of a hazardous substance like mercury on highways in urban areas

What Could Happen:
A traffic accident causes the container to rupture and release mercury into a lake or stream.

Mercury builds up (bioaccumulates) in the fish, which people and wildlife eat, and threatens the public water supply serving many people downstream. People and wildlife may become ill, some may die, and offspring suffer severe birth defects.

Mercury is used in manufacturing many important products, including paint and paper and in processing leather. It is a key element in dental fillings, thermometers, and some fungicides and insecticides.

Part B

Now, answer the following questions:

  1. How would you rank the situations in Part A in terms of how risky they are and how likely injuries are to happen?

  2. How would you rank the risks in terms of the number of people affected and the severity of the possible harm? (That is, which situations present the deadliest and most widespread risk?)

  3. Which of the risks are you willing to accept (voluntarily), and which do you have to accept (involuntarily)? (For example, you can choose not to smoke cigarettes but you may not be able to prevent the transportation of hazardous substances along a highway near where you live.)

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