Teachers - Concentration

Objectives
Students will:
  • investigate and report on sources of emissions
  • report several actions people can take to reduce emissions
  • explore possible careers in providing alternative fuels and energy

Materials
computers with Internet access
printers
copies of the Student Worksheet

Optional extension of lesson:
  • water with a pH of 7.0
  • soil spray bottles
  • 100 ml graduated cylinders
  • 500 ml beakers
  • a solution with a pH of 4.0 (vinegar)
  • pH test kits, paper or probes to test water and soil
  • fresh picked leaves
  • chalk
  • 2 quart mixing bowls
  • vinegar


Background

The increase in the concentration of air pollutants will have an increasingly significant impact on human health, vegetation and visibility.

Where does the air pollution come from?
Air pollution comes from several sources. However cars, trucks, buses, boats, planes and trains are considered the largest contributors to poor air quality and produce millions of pounds of pollutants every day.

When traveling in cars, consider following these guidelines:
  • Avoid unnecessary driving and idling in the car;
  • Consider using public transportation if available; or
  • Walk, use shuttles or bike if possible.

The haze that can spoil the visibility by sooty particles in the air as well as smog-forming ground level ozone. Tons of airborne particles are produced by fires, both unplanned and planned.

If you camp, consider following these guidelines:
  • When planning to have a campfire, know and follow recreational area regulations;
  • Find out if firewood can be gathered or if you need to bring your own. Gather firewood only in designated areas;
  • Avoid using firewood over four inches in diameter, because it usually doesn't burn completely.
  • Burn only dead wood, don't cut vegetation from standing trees;
  • Never leave a fire unattended; and
  • Consider using other means of cooking such as propane stoves.


What do the weather and shape of the land have to do with air quality?
The normal circulation of air can help reduce the build up of air pollutants at ground level. Normal circulation will take pollutants higher in the atmosphere where they can disperse.

Sometimes a layer of warm can can trap cooler air close to the ground, this is called a thermal inversion. Not only is the cooler air trapped, but the normal circulation is disrupted, so it prevents the air pollutants from escaping. If the thermal inversion stays in place for several days, the trapped air pollutants can accumulate and reach significantly high levels.

The area topography (shape of the land) can have a role in creating poor air quality. Stagnant weather conditions can trap air in valleys and canyons which can create haze-filled inversions that decrease the distance we can see.


What can elevated levels of air pollutants such as ozone or particulate affect?

1) Aggravate asthma and other medical conditions
Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country. Ozone, also known as smog, can irritate your respiratory system, causing coughing, irritation in your throat or a burning sensation in your airways. It can reduce lung function, so that you may have feelings of chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath. Ozone can aggravate asthma and trigger asthma attacks. People at greater risk from ground-level ozone are people with lung diseases, such as asthma, and children and adults who are active outdoors.

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is composed of microscopic solids or liquid droplets that are so small that they can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems. When exposed to these small particles, people with heart or lung diseases and older adults are more at risk of hospital and emergency room visits or, in some cases, even death from heart or lung disease. Even if you are healthy, you may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of particles. Symptoms may include: irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest tightness; and shortness of breath. At greatest risk from particle pollution are people with heart or lung disease, older adults (possibly because they may have undiagnosed heart or lung disease), and children.

2) Decrease visibility
Visibility or visual range can be seriously reduced by polluting gases and fine particles called aerosols that absorb or scatter light. Some light scattering and absorption is natural--the sky is blue because of the scattering effect of naturally-occurring gases. But, human activities also create fine organic particles as well as tiny nitrate, sulfate, and nitrogen dioxide particles that are very efficient at reducing visibility.

Some human-created air pollutants form acids which come down either as dry fallout, or as rain, snow, fog and cloud water. This fallout raises the acidity level of lakes, streams and soils, injuring life in the water and causing chemical imbalances in plants.

3) Injure or kill vegetation
Acid rain does not usually kill trees directly. Instead, it is more likely to weaken trees by damaging their leaves, thereby limiting the nutrients available to them. This loss of nutrients in their foliage makes trees more susceptible to damage by other environmental factors, particularly cold winter weather. Acid rain can harm other plants in the same way it harms trees.

Procedure
Where does the air pollution come from?
Air pollution comes from several sources. However cars, trucks, buses, boats, planes and trains are considered the largest contributors to poor air quality and produce millions of pounds of pollutants every day.

What can increased levels of ground level ozone or particulates affect?
  • Aggravate asthma and other medical conditions;
  • Decrease visibility; and
  • Injure or kill vegetation.

The increase in the concentration of air pollutants will have an increasingly significant impact on human health, vegetation and visibility.

1) Select one Connecticut city from the list below and answer the questions on the Student Worksheet.

Bridgeport, Connecticut
Bridgeport web cam

Danbury, Connecticut
Danbury weather
Danbury air quality
Fairfield County High Ozone Days
Fairfield County Particle Pollution
Fairfield County Groups at Risk

Hartford, Connecticut
Hartford web cam
Hartford weather
Hartford air quality
Hartford County Particle Pollution
Hartford County Groups at Risk

New Haven, Connecticut
New Haven web cam
New Haven weather
New Haven air quality
New Haven County High Ozone Days
New Haven County Particle Pollution
New Haven County Groups at Risk

New London - Groton, Connecticut
New London - Groton weather
New London - Groton air quality
New London County High Ozone Days

Mohawk Mountain, Cornwall, Connecticut
Mohawk Mountain web cam
Mohawk Mountain weather
Torrington air quality

Litchfield County Particle Pollution

Litchfield County Groups at Risk


Extension
Hands-on activity
pH measures the relative acidity of the water on a scale of 0-14. A pH level of 7.0 is considered neutral. Pure water has a pH of 7.0. Water with a pH level less than 7.0 is considered to be acidic. Normal rain is slightly acidic, with a pH of about 5.5. Water with a pH greater than 7.0 is considered to be basic or alkaline. As of the year 2000, the most acidic rain falling in the U.S. had a pH of about 4.3.

  1. Part 1: Soil
    1. Fill a graduated cylinder with 100 ml of vinegar (or another solution with a pH of 4.0) Pour the 100 ml of vinegar into a spray bottle. Place 1500 ml of soil (6 cups) into a 2 quart mixing bowl. Measure the pH of the soil and record (*test kits vary; this test may take up to 10 minutes to get results). Spray the solution on the bowl of soil for 10 seconds. Let stand for 30 seconds. Measure the amount of vinegar/solution used and record. Measure the pH of the soil again and record (*test kits vary; this test may take up to 10 minutes to get results).
    2. Answer the following questions:
      • Was there a difference in the pH level? If so, what was it? What do you think would happen to the pH level of the water if you sprayed for 30 seconds? 1 minute?
      • How do you think acid rain affects the pH of soil in fields and forests?

    *NOTE: The soil test can take up to 10 minutes for the results. You might want to complete both soil tests, then complete Part 2 while you are waiting for the results.
     

    Part 2: Water
    1. Fill a graduated cylinder with 100 ml of vinegar (or another solution with a pH of 4.0) Pour the 100 ml of vinegar into a spray bottle. Place 1500 ml of water (6 cups) into a 2 quart mixing bowl. Measure the pH of the water and record. Spray the solution on the bowl of water for 10 seconds. Let stand for 30 seconds. Measure the amount of vinegar/solution used and record. Measure the pH of the water again and record.
    2. Answer the following questions:
      • Was there a difference in the pH level? If so, what was it? What do you think would happen to the pH level of the water if you sprayed for 30 seconds? 1 minute?
      • How do you think acid rain affects the pH in lakes, rivers and streams?

  2. Part 3: Vegetation
    1. Obtain 3 fresh, green leaves from the same tree or plant. Tape one leaf (control leaf) to a piece of white paper, label, and place in a dry, safe location. Spray one leaf all over with the vinegar/solution. Tape it next to the control leaf on the white piece of paper and label.
      • Are there any immediate effects to the leaf?
      Place the leaf next to your control leaf overnight in the classroom.
      • What does the leaf look like the next day?
      Spray a third leaf all over with the vinegar/solution 6 times in a day, place it next to the other leaves and leave overnight.
    2. Answer the following questions:
      • What does the leaf look like the next day?
      • How do you think acid rain affects trees and other plants?