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The assessment of risk and the emotional controversy that erupts when segments of the public perceive themselves to be exposed to a greater level of risk will gain increasing attention in the 1990s.

The recent decision by Master Builders Corp. to abandon a partially completed new plant in Hamburg and its 25 new jobs exemplifies the difficult choices we face when addressing the slippery issue of risk.

The Master Builders announcement was accompanied by a fascinating array of emotions ranging from the "ecstasy" and "happiness" of plant opponents, to the "relief" of Supervisor Jack Quinn, to the disappointment of a company official who felt that vocal criticism of the plant was based on "half truths and untruths."

Possibly a $4 million plant and 25 jobs is of only slight significance to Hamburg's economy and taxpayers. Would the result have been the same if a 400-employee, $50 million printed circuit board plant had been proposed? Incidentally, the same polymeric coatings Master Builders had hoped to manufacture are used to protect electronic components such as circuit boards.

While industry must be required to take responsible care in protecting public safety, public officials and the public should assess risk based on fact, not emotion.


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