Pollution WebQuest


Pollution may be defined as the introduction of impurities into an ecosystem that cause undesirable changes. Do you produce pollution? Does pollution produced by others affect your daily life? Does pollution cost you any money?

One of the "laws" of ecology says that "everything must go somewhere". No technology exists that causes trash to disappear when we flush it or throw it away. It may be out of sight, but it went "somewhere".

The major sources of environmental impurities are domestic, agriculatural, and industrial. Each of these produces a variety of different pollutants. Some pollutants are biodegradable, subject to decay by microorganisms. These pollutants are usually considered a "short-term" problem because they are eventually "recycled" by nature. Other pollutants are nonbiodegradable, cannot be decomposed by microorganisms. These pollutants are a "long-term" problem, remaining in the environment essentially forever.

The seven tasks of this WebQuest provide links to Wikipedia, a free online encyclopedia. Use these links to collect information about types of pollution. Analyze the information and compare the seriousness of each type. Apply the research to compose an essay in which you evaluate the economic impact of pollution and its prevention. Based on your evaluation, propose a course of action and predict the results of that action.

WebQuest Tasks

Task 1: Air Pollution

Air pollution is a broad term applied to all physical (particulate matter), chemical, and biological agents that modify the natural characteristics of the atmosphere.

Air Pollutants are classified as either Primary or Secondary. A Primary air pollutant is one that is emitted directly to the air from a given source. Carbon monoxide is an example of a primary air pollutant because it is produced as a byproduct of combustion.

A Secondary air pollutant is formed in the atmosphere through chemical reactions involving primary air pollutants. The formation of ozone in photochemical smog is an example of a secondary air pollutant.

The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic and fragile system. Concern is growing about the effects of air pollutant emissions in a global context, and the inter-linkage of these emissions with global warming, climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.

This task provides information about the causes and effects of air pollution.
Use this air pollution webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. Worldwide, how many people are estimated to die each year due to air pollution?
  2. In what country and year did the worst short-term civilian air pollution event occur?
  3. How many casulties occured in the worst single incident of air pollution to occur in the U.S.?
  4. What name is used to indicated all sources of pollution caused by "human activity"?
  5. All contaminants of the air can be divided into two groups. What are they?
  6. What do the letters TSP stand for?
  7. Both the PM10 and PM2.5 units refer to what characteristic of atmospheric particles?
  8. What group of air pollutant gases destroy the stratospheric ozone layer?
  9. What group of air pollutant gases causes acid rain?
  10. Two pollutants sometimes found in shower water mist are damaging to inhale. What are they?
  11. How many lung cancer deaths are estimated annually in the U.S. by second-hand tobacco smoke?
  12. How do pets contribute to indoor air pollution?

Task 2: Water Pollution

Water pollution has many sources and characteristics. Humans and other organisms produce bodily wastes which enter surface waters like rivers, lakes, and oceans. Industries discharge a variety of compounds such as heavy metals, and wastewater. Silt-bearing runoff from construction sites and farms can inhibit the penetration of sunlight through the water, hampering photosynthesis.

Groundwater pollution is much more difficult to clean up than surface pollution because groundwater can move hundreds of miles through unseen aquifers. Porous, fine-grained layers such as sands and sandstones naturally purify water by simple filtration. Groundwater that moves through cracks and caverns is not filtered and can be polluted just as easily as surface water.

This task introduces the basic ways in which waste water can be treated to remove impurities. Answer the questions related to each link below.

Part A: Use this sewage treatment webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. What are the two products of sewage treatment?
  2. What is removed during "primary" wastewater treatment?
  3. What is removed during "secondary" wastewater treatment?
  4. What is the purpose of "tertiary" wastewater treatment?
  5. What machine is used for primary sewage treatment?
  6. Secondary treatment in most municipal sewage plants involves an aerobic process. What two things do the biota require?
  7. Several processes can be used for tertiary treatment. When does disinfection occur?
Part B: Use this industrial wastewater treatment webpage to answer the following questions.
  1. What two contaminants are usually found in the water used to cool blast furnaces?
  2. What two acids are commonly used in the iron and steel industry?
  3. What are the principal waste-waters associated with mines and quarries?
  4. What is required for the processing of food from raw materials?
  5. Toxic metals can often be precipitated out of waste water by changing what?
Part C: Use this agricultural wastewater treatment webpage to answer the following questions.
  1. Where is a common place where the agricultural waste is in the form of a liquid slurry?
  2. Why does disposal of wastewater containing animal waste upstream of a drinking water intake possibily pose serious health problems?
  3. What is "silage" made up of?
  4. What is "silage" made from?
  5. Why does animal "dipping" cause a major pesticide runoff problem?
  6. What pollutants are found in milking parlour wash-down water?

Task 3: Radioactive Contamination

Radioactive contamination is the uncontrolled distribution of radioactive material in a given environment. Radioactivity is produced by "high energy" particles and waves. These high energy substances can harm tissue and are dangerous to all living things. Even exposure to low levels of radiation is harmful over a period of time. Disposal of radioactive waste products poses a major environmental problem because they remain radioactive for a very long period of time.

This task introduces nuclear pollution and its special environmental dangers. Use this radioactive contamination webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. How does radioactive contamination typically occur?
  2. What is nuclear fallout?
  3. What are the SI units for surface radioactivity?
  4. All living things on earth contain significant quantities of what two radioactive isotopes?
  5. What body organ is most likely harmed by exposure to radioactive iodine?
  6. What are the four ways radioactive contamination can enter the body?
    Use this
    Radiation webpage to answer the next two questions.
  7. Given alpha, beta, gamma, delta, and epsilon radiation - which of these is NOT composed of some type of particle?
  8. What causes gravitational radiation?
    Use this Nuclear Power Plant webpage to answer the next five questions.
  9. What country had the world's first nuclear power plant that generated electricity for commercial use?
  10. On what date did the power plant above become operational?
  11. What was the cost of the first commercial nuclear generator in the US?
  12. Fission reactors generate heat by nuclear fission of isotopes of what two elements?
  13. Two types of light water thermal reactors are BWR and PWR. What do these letters stand for?
    The worst commercial nuclear accident in US history occured at the Three Mile Island power plant, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Use this Three Mile Island webpage to answer the next ten questions.
  14. At what time and on what date did the first malfunction occur?
  15. A Pressure Operated Relief Valve, or PORV, would have probably stopped the events leading to the accident. Why didn't the reactor have a PORV?
  16. What happened at Three Mile Island is classified as a LOCA. What do those letters mean?
  17. The emergency feedwater system was tested 42 hours prior to the accident. What happened during this test that made the accident much worse?
  18. How long after the first malfunction were the primary cooling loop pumps shut down because the began to shudder?
  19. How long after the first malfunction was the top of the reactor core exposed?
  20. How long after the first malfunction were radiation alarms activated?
  21. How many hours into the accident did the hydrogen in the reactor building ignite and burn?
  22. How many hours into the accident were the primary loop pumps turned back on, causing the core temperature to begin to fall?
  23. How many "curies" of radioactive noble gases are estimated to have been released by the accident?
    The worst commercial nuclear accident in WORLD history occured at the Chernobyl power plant, in Ukraine, Soviet Union. Use this Chernobyl webpage to answer the next 13 questions.
  24. At what time and on what date did the first steam explosion occur?
  25. There are two conflicting official theories about the cause of the accident. Who or what does each theory blame?
  26. How many Gigawatts (GW) of electricity was the normal capacity for the Chernobyl-4 reactor?
  27. Plant operators conducted an experiment involving shutting down the reactor. At exactly what time did the experiment begin?
  28. At exactly what time did operators press the AZ-5 button, ordering a complete "scram" of the reactor?
  29. What does "scram" mean?
  30. The control rods stuck after being inserted about one-third of the way, and were unable to stop the reaction. The reactor jumped to ten times the normal operational output by what time?
  31. Reactor heat at ten times operational output caused fuel rods to begin to melt. How many seconds after this did the first explosion occur?
  32. After the steam explosion burst the primary pressure vessel, the inrush of oxygen sparked what type of fire?
  33. Exposure to 500 Roentgens of radiation over 5 hours is considered a lethal dose. After the accident, some areas of the power plant were exposed to what level of radiation in 1 hour?
  34. Most of the reactor crew died from radiation exposure within how many weeks following the accident?
  35. At what time was the fire extinguished?
  36. How were workers at the Forsmark nuclear power plant in Sweden (1100 km from Chernobyl) involved in making the world aware of the Chernobyl accident?

Task 4: Noise Pollution

Noise pollution is unwanted man-made sound that penetrates the environment. Noise pollution can be caused by many sources including highways, vehicles, police cars, ambulances, factories, concerts, music, air-conditioners, engines, machine, aircraft, helicopters, alarms, public address systems, industrial development and construction work. In general, noise pollution refers to any noise irritating to one's ear which comes from an external source. The word "noise" comes the Latin word "nausea" meaning seasickness.

This task shows how sound can become noise pollution. Use this noise pollution webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. How does military SONAR kill marine mammals?
  2. What is infrasonic sound?
  3. What type of noise pollution escalated rapidly in the late 1990s?
  4. What "urban legend" is mentioned in the reading?
  5. What authorities are usually responsibe for protecting against noise?
  6. What two US cities have a law allowing impounding af cars with loud stereos?
  7. What percentage of people bothered by noise will file an official complaint?


Task 5: Global Warming

Global warming describes an increase in the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. The term is also used to describe the theory that increasing temperatures are the result of a strengthening greenhouse effect caused primarily by man-made increases in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

This task introduces some of the causes and effects of global warming. Use this global warming webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to what?
  2. Over the past century, global (land and sea) temperature has increased by how much?
  3. How long has it taken for atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide to increase by 31%?
  4. Some think that even if levels of greenhouse gases were to remain constant, the global climate will warm by 0.5 oC to 1.0 oC. What would cause this?
  5. There is a natural greenhouse effect without which the Earth would be uninhabitable. How much lower would Earth's temperature be with this natural effect?
  6. How many bilions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are added to the Earth's atmosphere each year by burning fossil fuels?
  7. How many millions of tons of methane are added to the Earth's atmosphere by human sources?
  8. Some researchers have proposed that changes in the Sun, along with feedbacks from clouds and other processes, contribute to global warming. What is the name of this theory?
  9. What must a computer climate model do before it is accepted by the scientific community as being valid?
  10. The amount of predicted global warming varies from one computer climate model to another. What probably causes this?
  11. Most computer climate models are limited by available computational power. Why is so much computing power needed?
  12. What potent greenhouse gas is trapped in large quantities in the permafrost of the tundra?
  13. Global warming from CO2 radiative forcing is expected to cool the stratosphere. What effect will this have on ozone depletion?
  14. Some scientists seem to have observed a reduction in the amount of sunlight reaching the surface of the planet, possibly due to aerosols. What is this phenomenon called?
  15. The primary effect of global warming is increasing carbon dioxide and increasing global average temperature. List four secondary effects of global warming.
  16. What eight countries would be most affected by sea level rise from global warming?

Task 6: Environmental Protection Agency

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is an agency of the United States federal government charged with protecting human health and with safeguarding the natural environment: air, water, and land. The EPA began operation on December 2, 1970. It is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the President of the United States. The EPA is not a Cabinet agency, but the Administrator is normally given cabinet rank.

This task introduces the EPA, the US government agency responsible for protecting the environment. Use this Environmental Protection Agency webpage to answer the following questions.

  1. What do the letters FIFRA stand for?
  2. EPA tests for automobile fuel economy do not measure actual fuel consumption. What do they measure?
  3. What type of vehicles have the most significant differences between the EPA milage rating and actual milage?
  4. In what year was the "Scenic Rivers Preservation Act" passed?
  5. Which EPA region includes Oklahoma?

Task 7: Greenpeace International

Greenpeace is an international environmental organization based in Amsterdam, with national and regional offices in 41 countries. The global organization receives its income through the individual contributions of an estimated 2.8 million financial supporters, as well as from grants from charitable foundations.

Greenpeace's official mission statement describes the organization and its aims as follows:

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organization which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to force solutions for a green and peaceful future. Greenpeace's goal is to ensure the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity.
This task introduces Greenpeace, a non-government organization that aims to stop certain actions it believes are harming the environment. Use this Greenpeace webpage to answer the following questions.
  1. What is the name of the "Committee" from which Greenpeace was formed?
  2. Greenpeace International was formed on what date?
  3. To ensure its independence and impartiality, Greenpeace does not accept money from what two sources?
  4. What is the Rainbow Warrior?
  5. What are the two main environmental issues Greenpeace focuses on today?
  6. David McTaggart, one of the founders of Greenpeace International, was a champion at what sport in his youth?
  7. Who was killed when the French government used frogmen to attach two bombs to the Rainbow Warrior and sink her?
  8. What brand product of the Kimberly-Clark Corporation does Greenpeace charge is leading to the destruction of ancient boreal forests in Canada?
  9. Because of their door-to-door fund-raising, Paul Watson, a vocal critic, once called Greenpeace what?
  10. Greenpeace activists were arrested and charged with "sailormongering" while protesting U.S. importation of Brazilian mahogany. What is "sailormongering"?

Conclusion to the WebQuest:

There is no question that preventing pollution and protecting the environment costs a lot of money. US industries spend billions of dollars each year to meet EPA air and water pollution standards; cars and trucks have increasingly more expensive modifications to meet gas milage and emission standards; environmentalists continually block oil exploration and logging operations in wilderness areas; and no nuclear powerplants have been built in the US in over twenty five years. The combination of government regulations and protests by environmentalists makes fewer jobs available and significantly increases the price of just about all consumer goods, including food, gasoline, and electricity.
Write an essay of sufficient length to answer this question: Is the negative effect on the US economy worth the price for protecting the environment?

NOTE:   This must be included in the essay introduction:
  • Create a thesis statement appropriate for the essay. The thesis statement cannot be a question.
NOTE:   This must be included in the essay body:
  • Choose what you judge to be key WebQuest research information to support your answer to the WebQuest question.
NOTE:   This must be included in essay conclusion:
  • If your overall answer to the question is positive (yes, the price is worth it), in what area or areas should spending be increased or standards tightened? Use information presented in the essay to support your position.
  • If your overall answer to the question above is negative (no, the price is not worth it), in what area or areas should spending be cut back or standards loosened? Use information presented in the essay to support your position.
WebQuest Application:
Read each essay to the class.
  • Group students as either positive or negative response to the question.
  • The two groups debate their positions.
    • Each group will assess the position of the other, questioning their conclusions and recommendations.
    • Each group will argue for their own position, providing support for their conclusions and recommendations.
  • After the debate, discuss this question: How does the debate compare to how law-makers and scientists decide environmental policies?