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Classroom Activities for Understanding Hazardous Waste

One out of four Americans lives within four miles of a Superfund hazardous waste site. There are Superfund sites and many other hazardous waste sites in every state. Every community generates hazardous waste.

The Federal Superfund Program, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), investigates and cleans up hazardous waste sites throughout the United States. Part of this program is devoted to informing the public and involving them in the . process of cleaning up hazardous waste sites from beginning to end. Haz-Ed was developed to assist EPA's efforts. Haz-Ed assists educators in teaching 7th through 12th grade students about hazardous waste, environmental issues surrounding site cleanup, and the Federal government's Superfund Program.

Haz-Ed can be used as part of a larger curriculum, as special stand-alone activities, or on an occasional basis to teach students about hazardous waste issues. Haz-Ed is a compilation of interdisciplinary activities that focus on the often complicated and sometimes controversial scientific, technical, and policy issues related to hazardous waste sites and Superfund. It is designed to help students develop skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making. It also increases environmental awareness and encourages an environmental ethic in students.

EPA hopes Haz-Ed will be beneficial to you in your efforts to educate your students about the environment and the environmental concerns we all share. If you have any questions concerning Haz-Ed or the Superfund Program, please contact Jean Farrell of Superfund's Community Involvement and Outreach Center, at 703-603-9055.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sincerely appreciates the valuable contributions of the following education and environmental professionals to Haz-Ed: Classroom Activities for Understanding Hazardous Waste.


Carol Adkins
Larry Mancl
Linda Andrews
Judith Mealing
Cindy Byers
David Miller
Steven Coon
Douglas Reindl
Nancy L. Cronin
Laurie Low Reser
Katie Daly
Paul Rowland
Rodney J. Dymesich
Gretchen Schmidt
Mark Elworthy
Ron SIotkin
CeCe Forget
Joseph Smogor
Scott Fredericks
Valerie Stone
Gayle Fritsch
Helen Lynn Vella
Joanna Gibson
Helen Waldorf
Robert Hubert
Debra Weitzel
Alice Jasmer
Midge Yergen
Kathleen Kaye



Ten million children under the age of 12 live within 4 miles of a Superfund site. The following education materials were developed to focus the attention of 7th through 12th grade students on hazardous waste, environmental issues surrounding hazardous waste sites, and the Federal government's Superfund Program. The units in this package are designed to help students think critically and creatively about hazardous waste pollution problems and some, alternatives for resolving them. The units are interdisciplinary, with a particular focus on classroom interaction and real-world applicability. They are readily usable in schools with a team-teaching or theme approach. The materials are designed for use in a range of subject areas. A table showing the related subject areas for all units is provided at the end of this Introduction for quick reference.

The Haz-Ed materials focus on laws passed by the United States Congress and implemented through regulatory programs directed by Federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. These are Federal laws and programs that apply to the entire nation. Each state also has a system of environmental laws and state agencies to implement them. Even some local governments have acted to deal with environmental issues through legislation. although beyond the scope of this document, information about state and local activities can be very useful to you.

Instructional Goals

The units are designed to fulfill four primary instructional goals. Each unit is hands-on and interactive, giving students practice in:

  • Collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data in experiments that illustrate the impact of hazardous waste pollution

  • Clarifying value systems-their own and those of others-that impact how we perceive and treat the environment

  • Analyzing how economics, laws, politics, technology, and other factors contribute to hazardous waste pollution and the process of dealing with it

  • Assessing alternatives for resolving hazardous waste pollution problems.

    Students must gain an understanding of the scientific and technical concepts related to the environment, and see that these concepts are useful and applicable in the world. To show the relevance and utility of the concepts and skills underlying these activities beyond the classroom, many of the units challenge students to extrapolate real world applications from the information presented.

What This Package Contains

The package includes 6 Warm-up Exercises, 13 Activities, and 11 Fact Flashes. These units focus on the most important hazardous waste and site cleanup issues in a simple, straightforward style. Many of them can be completed in one class period, but some require two class periods or portions of several classes over a specified period of time. The number of class periods required for each lesson was determined based on an average class period of 45 minutes. These are estimates and are provided only as a guide. The actual time required will depend on the grade level and the skill level of the students in the class.

Pieces can be used alone or in various combinations to accommodate the needs of individual classes and grade levels. Some educators, for example, may choose to conduct several Warm-ups and Activities in sequence over an entire semester. Complementary units are referenced in each Warm-Up and Activity.

Several lessons begin with homework assignments to prepare students for the exercise. Most units call for explanations or presentations by teachers, but several also involve presentations from students and facilitated discussions led by teachers.

Fact Flashes

The Fact Flashes are a set of fact sheets that provide the foundation of information on which the Warm-Ups and. Activities are built. The Fact Flashes stand alone and can be used to supplement your lessons in a number of ways.

Warm-Up Exercises

The Warm-Ups focus on developing and understanding some basic concepts related to hazardous waste. These exercises are designed to be presented by classroom educators in series or as preparation for related Activities.


The Activities build on the Warm-ups, although they can stand alone. Students examine issues related to hazardous waste and site cleanup. The Activities are designed for presentation by classroom educators. Since some of the Activities take more than one class period, however, educators may wish to consider sharing the delivery with an invited guest, such as an EPA Superfund staff member or an employee of the state government's hazardous waste cleanup program.

Appended Materials

At the end of this document you will find several resources and supplements that can assist you in making the most of Haz-Ed or support your independent activities. The Glossary defines many of the terms and concepts students will encounter in the exercises and activities. You may consider providing your students with a copy for their general reference.

A list of abstracted Suggested Readings provides both educators and students with additional information. The list is keyed for grade level and provides references to the most relevant exercises and activities.

A list of Contacts and Resources provides a variety of information, including key phone 'numbers and Internet addresses.

A brochure, This Is Superfund, is a stand-alone document that describes the Superfund Program. It can be used in the classroom and the community.

Finally, the Bibliography lists resources used in preparing the Haz-Ed materials.

How To Use This Package

These materials are intended as resources. Educators should feel free to make adjustments in the material to fit in with topics and concepts the class may already be studying or to address topics of particular importance to students in a given geographic area. Also, we encourage educators to use their knowledge of the make-up of the community to add texture to the lessons and reinforce students' in-classroom work. Educators are reminded to consider economic and cultural sensitivities in using the materials that involve living creatures or procuring materials.

How educators and guest presenters deliver these lessons is all-important. Helping students think critically about the world around them and their role in preserving the environment underlies all the materials. Many of the activities involve technical vocabulary and concepts, and instructors may need to spend extra time defining terms and providing background. Accelerated students may not have a problem, but others may. Grade levels listed in the materials are only suggestions; select and adapt these materials to your students' abilities and needs. Feel free to copy these materials and share them with other educators.


  Purpose explains what the student will know or be able to do following this activity.
Duration estimates the time needed for the lesson. The actual time required will depend on the grade level and the skill level of the students in the class.
example of activity
Grade Level indicates the target grade levels for this unit.
Key Terms/Concepts shows terms students will encounter in the unit (defined in the Glossary section of the package).
Suggested Subjects are the scholastic subject areas to which the lesson is related.
Background contains basic facts and context information for the educator's use.
Preparation provides a list of materials and steps the educator should complete prior to class.
Procedure sets out step-by-step instructions for executing the lesson. Wherever appropriate,
this section includes questions the educator should ask or anticipate from the students, student worksheets, and answer keys.
Extension (Optional) offers ideas for carrying the lesson further by suggesting follow-up, extra-credit activities, or ways to expand participation beyond the classroom.

Most units provide questions to stimulate student discussion, but few have a single, "right" answer. These questions are intended to draw on the students' abilities to identify. various options, Strategies, and reasons in arriving at their answers. Educators can ask students to describe how they arrived at a particular answer and encourage them to compare their answers and approaches with those used by other students to answer the same question. Where there may be several answers to the same question, challenge students to explore why answers are different and how to determine which, if any, are correct. This approach helps students develop critical thinking skills in a stimulating, noncompetitive environment.

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