Major Types of Air Pollution and Their Global Distribution
Teacher Preparation Step:
- Gather all materials listed under the materials section.
- If possible, students will need access to computers. If not, please print out information on each of the following six pollutants from the U.S. EPA website: Lead, nitrogen oxide, ozone, particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and sulfur dioxides
- Each student will need a copy of Reproducible #1 – Types of Air Pollutants.
Warm-up: Making Smog
- Begin this lesson by asking students to observe a demonstration.
- Fill your 1000mL beaker with about 250mL of warm water.
- Fill the aluminum pie pan with ice and set it next to the beaker.
- Light a match and swirl it around inside the beaker, trying to get as close to the water as possible without touching it.
- Immediately place the pie pan with the ice in it on top of the beaker and ask students to observe as fog fills the beaker. Eventually remove the pie pan with the ice and see the "smog" rise out.
- Ask the students to explain what they saw and how it relates to air pollution. Answer: Students should explain that the beaker became ‘cloudy’ and that it was difficult to see inside. This represents smog, or air pollution in the atmosphere.
Activity One: What is Air Pollution?
- Break the class up into six groups. Assign each group the name of an air pollutant. Ask them to use the following resource to find information on their pollutant only: http://www.epa.gov/air/airpollutants.html. If computers are not available, print information from the site listed above and put together a class set of packets for the students to use as a resource. Have them fill out Reproducible #1 – Types of Air Pollutants for their assigned air pollutant only.
- Ask groups to come together as a class and call each group up to front of the room to present their findings. Choose one member of the group to write notes on the board while another speaks to the class. The remainder of the class should take notes on Reproducible #1 – Types of Air Pollutants about the air pollutants they did not research.
Activity Two: Where in the World?
- Display Reproducible #2 – World Map on the overhead/whiteboard. Lead a discussion by asking the following questions:
- What areas seem to have the highest amount of air pollution? Answer: Northern Africa and Asia. The lowest? Answer: Australia, Northern North America, Eastern South America, Russia.
- Why do you think these areas have the most pollution? Answer: Many factories burning coal, wood burning for heat, fewer regulations on air quality, etc.
- What are some ways in which air pollution could be reduced regionally? Answer: passing laws to eliminate coal and wood burning, widespread use of alternative fuels, funding for research on new fuel types, using alternative forms of transportation, etc.
- What do you think this map would have looked like 100 years ago? Answer: would have still been significant air pollution but would have most likely been concentrated in different areas. Where would the most air pollution have been? Answer: In Europe and North America because of the Industrial Revolution.
- If we continue producing air pollutants like we are today, what do you think this map will look like in 10 years? 100 years? Answer: Red areas will have spread into many different locations; perhaps a new color will have been introduced to signify a higher pollution concentration.
Wrap Up: Here, There, and Everywhere
- Review the lesson by asking students to recall the names of the six major air pollutants and the regions of the world where they were most prevalent. What was one fact that they learned about air pollution distribution today that they did not know before?
- For homework that evening, ask students to look up the air quality index of their town for that specific day as well as for another town of their choice (where a relative lives, where a student was born, etc). Tell them that air quality indexes can be found in the local newspaper or online. Instruct them to compare the two air qualities. If they are different, why? What factors in each town may have impacted the air quality on that day (factories, weather patterns, etc). The next day, invite students to share their findings with the class.
Extension: Alternative Fuels to the Rescue!
- Have students research an alternative fuel source that could be used to power vehicles, factories, etc. (such as ethanol, hydrogen, solar, wind, etc). Would the use of this fuel decrease air pollution? What are the pros and cons? Would it be practical for their community to use this fuel in public transit or industry? Why or why not? Assign students to present their findings to the class.
After researching types of air pollution, students presented their findings to their classmates. They uncovered several causes of air pollution and discovered how the pollutants affect the environment. Students used a map to identify geographic locations where air pollution is a pressing issue and discussed causes behind the pollutants.
Lesson plan credits
Sharvari Chwastyk – Author
Middle School Science Teacher, Cabin John Middle School
Maggie Ollove – Editor
Education Associate – Earth Day Network