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Hazardous Waste Issues in the News

Duration 1 1/4 class period
Grade Level 7-12
Key Terms/
Concepts
Contamination
Hazardous Waste
Suggested
Subjects
Chemistry
Geography
History
Life Science
Physical Science
Social Studies
Journalism

Purpose

'Local Waste Cleanup Process' clipping In this exercise, students conduct research to collect reports in newspapers or on TV or the radio on local and national hazardous waste issue. This helps students appreciate the magnitude of the hazardous waste problem. A follow-up discussion allows students to explore how hazardous waste issues affect their community.


Background

The news media—newspapers, news magazines, television and radio stations—informs people about environmental issues and problems. News reports can play an important role in shaping the public's perceptions of the government's efforts to address the issues and resolve the problems. For example, the media not only reports on environment-related events, such as accidents involving the release of hazardous materials or the discovery of hazardous waste contamination at a site; it also lets people know how officials are responding and, if necessary, what to do to protect themselves from the hazards involved. The media also helps to keep people informed about the day-to-day progress of hazardous waste cleanup efforts, recycling programs, and efforts to conserve natural resources.

The way reports are written can give a good or bad impression of what is being done to remedy hazardous situations. The media can also help communities focus on potentially dangerous situations so prevention measures can be taken before the site becomes truly hazardous.

For additional information on the role the media plays in environmental protection and cleanup, see the Suggested Reading list found at the end of the Haz-Ed materials. Other Haz-Ed materials that are related to this topic include Fact Flash 10: Superfund Community Involvement Program.

Preparation

1.  Gather the following materials:

  • Copies for each student of the following Student Handouts, which present sample articles.

Procedure

Class #1

  1. Discuss the role of the media in relationship to Superfund. The media is how most people learn about hazardous waste issues.

  2. Explain to students that a follow-up class (specify the date) will focus on the problem of hazardous waste. To prepare for the class, they are to gather reports from the news media (newspapers, magazines, radio, and television) about hazardous waste sites and other environmental contamination problems. Distribute the attached Student Handouts, which can serve as examples of the kinds of stories to look for.

  3. Divide the students into 6 teams. Assign each team one of the following:

    1. Collect articles from local newspapers

    2. Collect articles from national newspapers (New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times) or from major daily newspapers in your state

    3. Collect articles from national news magazines (Newsweek, Time, U.S. News and World Report) or environment-related magazines (Ecology, Audubon, Science)

    4. Monitor and take notes on radio programs (all-news stations, National Public Radio, and local radio "public affairs" programs)

    5. Monitor and take notes on television news programs—daily local news, daily national (network) news, CNN, weekly news programs such as 60 Minutes (CBS), Dateline (NBC), Prime Time Live (ABC)

    6. Gather information from the local library on hazardous waste problems and toxic contamination of soil and water since 1980. (This information should include, but not be limited to, reports on Love Canal near Niagra Falls, New York; Times Beach, Missouri; and the 1980 explosion and fire at the Chemical Control Company in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The problems in these communities are referenced in many books about hazardous waste and pollution—see Suggested Reading list.)


  4. Stress that teams with assignments a-e should focus on collecting information about hazardous waste problems in their local area or their state; articles about those in other parts of the country should be gathered only if no local-interest stories are available. They should gather information on the kind of waste, type of incident, location of incident, and people responsible.

  5. Allow each team to organize itself and make individual assignments to avoid duplication of effort and complete the research needed. Suggest that each team select a spokesperson to present a brief summary of the information collected by the team at the beginning of the follow-up class.

  6. Give teams 3 weeks to conduct research.

Class #2

  1. Have team members sit together for this class. Have the spokesperson for each team summarize the information the team has collected. Following the presentations, have the class discuss the information presented. Encourage students to compare various hazardous waste issues and problems highlighted in the presentations, what caused them, how they were discovered, and how they are being (or were) addressed.

  2. Ask students what conclusions they can draw from this information about how hazardous waste might affect their community. Have them suggest ways they can prevent or minimize the potential problems related to hazardous waste.

Extensions (Optional)

  • Have the students write an article or an editorial for your school or community newspaper or a local radio or television station highlighting hazardous waste issues in your community (or state). Have them research how to prepare the material for submission, who to send it to, and how to follow-up to ensure the best chance of publication or broadcast. Have students share their articles and editorials with the class. Encourage one or more students to pursue publication or broadcast of their material and to share the results with the class.

  • Have students make a collage of articles they collect and display it on a school bulletin board or use it as the backdrop for a presentation of hazardous waste issues to a school assembly.

  • Have students set up an information booth in the school on Earth Day or another environmental event. They can collect and distribute the information they gathered for this assignment and inform other students of hazardous waste sites in the area.

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