Hazardous Waste and Toxics: Real Data for Real Places
In this activity students combine directed work in a computer lab with independent work outside of the lab. Students work directly with a series of online Federal databases to explore geographies of environmental hazards, the nature of the threats they pose, and the types of remediation result. Students identify and assess the threats of hazardous waste sites on the National Priorities List of Superfund; examine the geographies of toxic releases into the environment using the most recent Toxics Release Inventory (TRI); and explore the combination of the two with a link to the fate and exposure of selected pollutants and their toxicological profiles using the TOXMAP service of the National Library of Medicine.
Themes include the differences between Superfund and TRI; concepts of liability and the principle of "polluter pay"; examination of the reasons and potential impacts of disclosures under the TRI; comparison of place-based cases in published environmental justice cases; consideration of the concept of fate and exposure of particular chemicals; basic study of environmental remediation; research methods for geo-referenced socio-economic research; and assessments of place-based environmental justice advocacy in a "ground truthing" vein. Students complete a pre-designed and directed worksheet and also conduct self-directed research. Responses are both written and numerical with an additional submission of a set of presentation-ready graphics.
Students will reinforce basic knowledge of Superfund and the Toxics Release Inventory with hands-on use of data bases and reports related to each. They should learn one way in which geo-referenced pollution data can be accessed online and how hazards, their impacts, and potential remediation are assessed and examined by the Environmental Protection Agency. They will see how the "polluter pays" principle breaks down when no responsible parties are identified and how pollution problems from waste become a collective responsibility which requires significant levels of funding and long periods of time to remediate. They will identify basic ways to consider the socio-economic parameters of environmental justice and ways to collect Census and other data for their characterization. The activity also introduces the concept of "ground-truthing" environmental justice cases with data and analysis from government sources. Basic understandings of toxicology and environmental fate and exposure can be introduced in the TOXMAP component of the activity.
Students engage in critical thinking and the synthesis of ideas from the broad parameters of environmental policy; environmental justice and environmental advocacy for specific empirical cases. In self-directed work, this may include additional research activity involving media and other sources.
Context for Use
Description and Teaching Materials
The design of that block of material will be heavily dependent on the niche of the lab in the course context. The lab document (which is attached) should be made available to students in hard copy but could also be available in advance in electronic format through a course-management system.
The lab packet is included as a document as WORD file. It can adapted to suit time period and learning goals of the particular class context. hazardous_waste_toxics (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 26kB Mar15 13)
Teaching Notes and Tips
Several components of the lab involve specific places, these are easily changed to accomodate instructor preferences but TEST for responses before assigning to a group.
Some components of the lab involve places from specific cases the students have read and discussed -- these can be replicated or adapted to cases of your particular interest -- again TEST for availability of data.
A note for student execution:
Instructor should emphasize that following the instructions is critical for directed work. Graphics and maps may render in different ways on IPads or phones and so using computers themselves is critical without further testing. There are many pathways through the EPA sites (especially Superfund) and confusion/getting "lost" is possible. A methodical procedure is the key here.
This is less important (and actually a lesson in and of itself) for the self-directed research but the key research skills are established in the directed component of the lab.
For open-ended and optional presentation activities, standard writing/presentation asssessment practices apply. A scoring rubric is not available at the present time.